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Community rallies to show disappointment over Libro decision to cut majority of services in Woodslee



by Sylene Argent

Woodslee Credit Union began at the kitchen table of farmers over 75-years ago, and over the years has evolved and merged with other banking systems.

  Most recently, in 2014, United Communities Credit Union, of which the Woodslee Branch was a part, merged with Libro Credit Union.

  Recently, the around 1800 members of the Woodslee Branched learned that as of July 1, Libro will scale-back traditional, full-service retail banking in Woodslee. At that point, this location will have a full ATM, and office space where members can meet with staff by appointment. It will no longer have a cash service.

  On the evening of Thursday, June 13, an open house was held at the Woodslee Community Centre so members of the community could learn of the process that led to this decision and voice concerns. Many residents who spoke at the meeting shared concerns of lack of notice of this near-closure of the facility and wondered why Libro did not speak with its membership if the branch was at risk of closing or would have to drastically change its service.

  Lori Atkinson, Libro’s Regional Manager for Essex-Kent, said over the course of the last few years, Libro has been going through an evidence-based approach to identify opportunities in individual communities as it is important for the credit union to be viable and competitive for its membership. Part of that was looking at alternative delivery opportunities in Woodslee.

  In 2017, Atkinson continued, Libro began looking at trends and data in a lot of its branches. She shared a chronological review of what she kept calling was the “journey” the credit union took to come to this decision, which included Woodslee being identified for a service model review in 2017 through a Regional Service Delivery Strategy.

  In August of last year, Libro engaged an external facilitator, Lisa Raffoul, to review the file. In October, a one-and-a-half-day Woodslee stakeholder engagement session took place with owner-reps. In January of 2019, A strategic Internal Steering Committee review commenced, and in March of 2019, the Board approved the final recommendation of the service change.

  When it came to Woodslee, she said, “We know how we were operating today was not sustainable over the long-term.”

  Through looking at trends, it was noticed that 50 percent of transactions made by Woodslee ownership are being conducted at other branches, such as Essex and Belle River.

  Atkinson said that during that one-and-a-half-day stakeholder engagement session, the owner-reps involved came up with several different ideas for the Woodslee branch, including reduced hours or days, or converting it into a number of combinations of services, including a contact, training, administrative centre. It was also suggested a partner be found to use part of the facility.

  “It has been a year-long plus journey,” Atkinson said, which was spent looking at data, talking to staff and owner-reps, and talking to the Board of Directors to have those crucial conversations. She said she knows change is hard and that change is feared.

  Through the course of the meeting, it was noted that though members will be able to make appointments with staff, that would not include day-to-day baking services, like going in to pay bills or take out money through the assistance of a teller. Many residents expressed concern about this, especially as to how this is expected to affect seniors in that community who do not bank online or may have limited access to transportation to attend other branches.

  During the meeting, residents voiced their concerns about how they were notified of this change and how they were not told about any issues ahead of time so that they could do their part to ensure the branch could remain open. Atkins said Libro could always be better as she said she heard from many in the past few weeks this decision was a shock. She said Libro sent a letter to the around 1800 members of the Woodslee branch, shortly after the Easter long-weekend.

  Joanne McMurren, a member of Woodslee’s credit union for 55-years, was unhappy with the notice given to members and believed the credit union tried to keep the change quiet.

  Steve Bolton, President and CEO, said he wanted to make sure the owner-reps were spoken to about the decision, which was why it hosted that day-and-a-half stakeholder meeting.

  “I hear the frustration with the process. When we went through the process, we thought it was in good faith. I believe we did that,” he said.

  However, two individuals who were a part of that stakeholder meeting – Bonnie Popov and Paul Mullins – spoke up at the meeting, and both claimed they were told the branch was not in jeopardy of closing at the time and the alternatives that they came up with were to enhance the service already in place.   

  “You didn’t give us a chance to save the branch. It up sets me I participated in the session,” Mullens said, who added that basically closing the branch would “tear out the heart of the community.”

  He was fearful of what losing the only financial institution in Woodslee would do to the community.

  Residents also expressed disappointment with the change in regard to the history of the Woodslee Credit Union. As far as the history of the credit union in Woodslee, Atkinson said it is not just about the building, it is about the history and journey.

  When asked how much money Libro would save with this new model, Atkinson said it was never a financial issue, it was about the number of transactions Woodslee’s members were making at other branches.

  Lakeshore Mayor Tom Bain said he is a long-time member of the credit union and asked that the Woodslee facility be kept open at least two or three days a week.

  “I heard the word ‘journey’ so many times tonight. The way I look at it, you went three-quarters of the way through this journey then leaped to the end,” he said.

  Atkinson noted the staff currently in Woodslee will be transferred to other roles at different branches.

  At the conclusion of the over two-hour meeting, Bolton was asked if Libro was still going to move forward with the changes.

  Bolton said he had taken 20-pages worth of notes during the meeting that challenged their thinking. He said the meeting would be reviewed and discussed.

  The residents asked that they be notified on how the credit union is to move forward.  

© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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