Her career has been dedicated to Newfoundland and Labrador’s credit union movement. Now’s she’s venturing out into the larger world, looking for new ways to tell an old story about fair banking
There’s nothing about Allison Chaytor-Loveys that pegs her as a common, garden-variety banker. She doesn’t look like one. She doesn’t talk like one. Even her name fails to conjure images of write-downs and foreclosure meetings. Of course, she’s perfectly happy with that.
“We’re not like traditional banks,” she says from her St. John’s office where, as CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador Credit Union, she presides over eight institutions that manage assets currently worth about $680 million. “Our customers are also our members, and we actually like them.”
It’s a message about communitarian commitment and cheerful conventions-busting she conveys with relish, and always has in her various capacities at NLCU over the past 46 years. “Bobby Kennedy said, ‘Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.’ Exactly. Why not?”
It’s a message she’s now taking to the international stage as the newest director of the prestigious World Council of Credit Unions. Upon her appointment in April, the organization, which represents 75,000 institutions in 109 countries, described her in a news release: “During her 15-year tenure, NCLU has won provincial, regional and national awards for creating a model work environment, providing exceptional member service, producing innovative marketing campaigns and making important contributions to communities.
“Having worked for more than four decades in the Canadian credit union system, Chaytor-Loveys is also an active community volunteer. She is a member of the Canadian Credit Union Association (CCUA) Board of Directors and the NLCU Charitable Foundation Corporation Board of Directors. She’s also a Fellow of the Credit Union Institute of Canada and was inducted into Atlantic Business Magazine’s Top 50 CEOs in Atlantic Canada Hall of Fame in 2010.”
Chaytor-Loveys says the new post will give her a rare opportunity to examine, up close and personal, the progress of what she cheerfully calls the “credit union movement” in other parts of the world and even to offer some lessons learned from long experience on The Rock, which almost no one else would seriously describe as a global, financial hotspot. But, as she might say, “Why not?” It wouldn’t be the first time she’s broken a few molds to happy effect.
Born and raised just outside St. John’s, the oldest of six (five sisters and one brother), she and her siblings learned early, at the feet of their parents, to think for themselves. “My dad, who worked for Canadian National Railways in freight sales, and my mum, who was a homemaker, always said it didn’t matter if you were a boy or a girl,” she says. “We would never be measured from our feet up. We would only be measured from our chin up. That really helped form us.”
Still, in the 1960s, it wasn’t always easy to avoid the boxes others built for her. “When I was in high school, guidance counsellors tended to groom girls towards things like secretarial, teaching or nursing careers,” she says. “It was more about role defining and figuring out where you could be channelled.”
In fact, she was bound for nursing when a quirk of timing sent her in a different direction. “I was too young for nursing school when I graduated from high school,” she explains. “So, I went and did a business program with on-the-job training at the Newfoundland Teachers Association. Well, they had a credit union there.”
She was hooked. Something about the organization’s history and culture—its roots in serving middle class and poorer people; its Canadian foundation in the 1930s as an alternative to big banks for working families; its track record of lending and investment innovations—resonated with her. “I can’t say my father was too impressed,” she laughs. “He never dealt with a credit union. Very few people here did. But I had a really good feeling about all of it.”
The movement in the province and across the country has grown since then. Today, according to the Canadian Credit Union Association, second quarter 2019 results showed solid balance sheet gains with Canada’s 241 credit unions and caisses populaires reporting $239.7 billion in assets, an increase of $14.5 billion, or 6.4 per cent, over the year-earlier period. Meanwhile, Canadians had $203 billion on deposit with affiliated institutions, representing a boost of $12.3 billion, or 6.5 per cent, over the second quarter of 2018. Finally, says the Association, “Lending activity recorded a $10.2 billion or 5.3 per cent gain (in 2Q-2019) over the same period last year, ending the first half of 2019 with $201.2 billion in loans.”
All of which naturally delights Chaytor-Loveys, though perhaps not as much as the sunny reviews credit unions ritually receive from small business organizations. “We were encouraged to see that some of the big banks have made positive changes since our previous report, but it’s clear several have a long way to go to match the overall customer satisfaction small business owners have with credit unions,” noted Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, in a 2016 report. “We challenge all banks to commit to bettering their small business financing and service offerings.”
Chaytor-Loveys is happy to see gauntlets like this thrown down at the feet of those who moil for money in the traditional financial sector. Among other things, it makes her think that she’s on the right track.
“You know, credit unions have been breaking with convention from the very beginning,” she says. “In the 1960s, women didn’t borrow money in their own names. Credit unions made that happen. Daily interest savings account, bi-weekly mortgage payments, ATMs, online and mobile banking: All that started with credit unions in this country and moved from there into the mainstream banks.”
Now, as she ventures into the world with a new role to play, she says she’s an open book. “There are so many things to take in. There’s micro-lending, for example. That’s hugely important in so many places to getting a business off the ground. Credit unions have played a big role in this, but how much more can we help? You have to push outside your comfort zone and find out?”
Why? She laughs, “why not?”
In a different life, she might have been a flight attendant. “Air Canada did accept me, but I had never been on a plane. I thought I’d drop a pot of hot coffee over someone.”
She likes to sew, and she’s pretty good at it. “I have a great love for taking a piece of fabric and doing something with it. My daughter had the best costumes at Halloween.”
She hates to sing, which is fine because she’s pretty bad at it. “I can’t carry a tune. My daughter is the singer. She actually teaches music. I don’t know where she gets her talent.”
If she won the lottery, she says she’d probably give it away. “Life is only as good as you make it. Money doesn’t do it. Unless you share it around.”
Improving the world, she says, begins with one democratic leader at a time. “We have to be thankful for every person who is committed to making society better.”