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Higher Calling Banking—A look at Mennonite Savings and Credit Union
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By Haydn Jensen

Which words go together in your mind: Christian Banking Money Faith

Two pairs? How about all of the above? Mennonite Savings and Credit Union is one financial institution that welcomes and encourages people to integrate faith and finances. And, it's not uncommon for its members to also put another group of words together: a breath of fresh air.

Unlike most financial institutions around, Mennonite Savings and Credit Union, or MSCU, defines itself as a "faith informed" institution. Wanting to know more, I spoke with MSCU's CEO, Brent Zorgdrager to find out how his organization operates. Here are some highlights of what he shared.

In many ways, MSCU offers similar financial services to other financial institutions like banks and other credit unions. These banking products include chequing and savings accounts, GIC’s and RSP’s, debit and credit cards, phone and online banking, loans and mortgages, commercial banking and so on. The list is quite extensive, so a look at their website would give a complete picture. Rates for investment and borrowing are competitive and comparable to traditional banks. As with all credit unions in Ontario, MSCU is insured by the Deposit Insurance Corporation of Ontario (DICO), an agency of the Province of Ontario.

What sets MSCU apart from other banks and credit unions is the faith basis of the organization. The founding group began with a group of church members looking for ways to live out their faith during the week. Founded in 1964, the credit union began with a radical vision for expanding the Mennonite faith community's historical commitment to mutual aid. What started out as $22 in a cash box and a modest attempt to share financial resources among Waterloo County Mennonites has grown into a full-service Anabaptist financial cooperative. MSCU holds firm to the radical dream of its founders: to be a Christian vehicle for the sharing of financial resources within the Mennonite, Amish, and Brethren in Christ communities.

In 2010, MSCU began welcoming membership of those in other Christian faith communities who share MSCU values. Today, these members comprise about 8% of around 20,000 total members. New members learn about the Anabaptist Statement of Shared Convictions on which MSCU is founded, and are asked to embrace these faith values as central to the philosophy of service at MSCU. Members are free to express these Christian values differently, but MSCU does ask them to be open to supporting the credit union and fellow members "by sharing in the journey as we live out this statement in our daily lives."

As Brent Zorgdrager explains, the Credit Union structure clearly works well for MSCU as credit unions operate with a social and community based consciousness. Banks have customers and generate profits for shareholders. With credit unions, the customers are members and also the owners. This changes the balance because with this model everything is about the same group of people. At the end of each financial year, MSCU looks at profits and shares them with its members by giving a rebate on loans or a premium on deposits. As well, with credit unions each member gets one vote—members with more dollars do not get more votes. MSCU has nearly 20,000 members, each having the same voting voice. This is very different from a stock company with a few influential shareholders.

Brent and MSCU see profits as having a higher purpose. He says, "They are there to be shared, to affect our communities and to make them stronger and healthier." As such, MSCU devotes almost 10% of profits to community activities dedicated to peace, social justice and mutual aid. They did give a transformational gift that allowed the addition of the fourth floor on the Conrad Grebel building and the creation of the CPA Centre for Peace Advancement. - see the link below for the MSCU Centre for Peace Advancement.

Many gifts are in the $1000 to $2000 range, with some directed to refugee settlement activities and assistance in covering medical costs. For 2013, MSCU reported its charitable giving at $330,000.

One very interesting option that MSCU offers to term deposit investors is called a "Church Builder" GICs. In addition to a competitive rate of return for the owner, MSCU will make a .5% donation annually to any church or faith informed charity the owner chooses. This year (2014), they wrote cheques for over $50,000. Brent loves this program and would love to see it grow.

On a personal note, I asked Brent why he likes working for MSCU. He shared that he previously worked for a big stock company. There he became increasingly troubled that the emphasis was more about profit maximization than about the people. Unhappy with the misalignment of his own personal convictions and what he was doing there, he found a solution with MSCU. He loves knowing that what MSCU does is worthwhile for the community and that they get to share back profits with members.

Is there a Mennonite Savings and Credit Union branch in London? Sadly, no. Aylmer is the closest branch. However, once members visit a branch to set up an account, MSCU offers plenty of online, mobile, and telephone banking options so that members rarely need to visit a branch in person. In addition, all Canadian credit union ATM’s have joined together to create one of the largest network of surcharge free ATM’s so that, in their words, "any credit union ATM is your credit union ATM".

For more information:

Mennonite Savings and Credit Union web page: www.mscu.com

Statement of Shared Convictions - https://www.mscu.com/SharedContent/documents/SOSC.pdf

MSCU Centre for Peace Advancement (Conrad Grebel University College) - https://www.mscu.com/AboutUs/PressReleases/November102011/

Church Builder GICs - https://www.mscu.com/SIA/ChurchBuilder/

Credit Unions of Ontario Cooperative Banking - http://cooperativebanking.ca/