By Jeff Lagerquist
You won’t find the Credit Union Lounge on any of the maps at Ryerson, even though it’s full of students at all hours of the day.
As students rest in the leather chairs between trips to the vending machines, most pay no mind to the small financial institution that has quietly been a part of Ryerson for more than 30 years.
POD 158 is home to our very own branch of the Alterna Savings Credit Union, though not that many students have bothered to notice.
Edward McDonald has been the manager of the Ryerson branch for the past five years.
“We’re definitely not as well utilized as we should be. The vast majority of our members are not students,” he said. He wouldn’t say how many students hold accounts, due to privacy policies.
Living in the shadow of the big banks is nothing new for credit unions, and a prime piece of
Ryerson real estate isn’t enough to combat their unassuming presence in the downtown core and on campus.
A CIBC bank machine sits just steps from the Credit Union Lounge.
“We are a completely separate entity from the university,”
McDonald said. No formal agreement has ever existed between Ryerson and a campus credit union.
Alterna offers the same services as conventional banks, however it’s owned and controlled equally by members, not the largest shareholders. They offer no fees student bank ing and a Platinum Plus
MasterCard with a comparatively low 9.99 per cent monthly interest rate. Many other student credit cards charge 19.99 per cent.
“We would obviously love to be the institution of choice at the university, but that’s just the way of the world. We don’t have the dollars to throw around that the big (financial institutions) do,” said Mcdonald.
Alterna holds $1.8 billion in assets, which sounds like a lot until you consider that Royal Bank holds $726 billion and TD Bank holds $620 billion.
Alterna has only 24 branches in Ontario and 129,000 members.
But McDonald insists that they aren’t defined by the number of branches.
He said that he firmly believes financial advice is best delivered face-to-face. The idea to offer no fees banking came from conversations with Ryerson students during frosh week.
McDonald’s branch supports Ryerson theatre school with a display for upcoming performances in the branch lobby.
Alterna, in credit union tradition, relies-of-word of mouth promotion and inherent popularity in the trades to expand their customer base.
Urban planning masters student Thomas Green frequents
Ryerson’s Alterna branch. Originally from Sault Ste Marie, he though he would have to close his account with the Community First Credit Union when he moved to Toronto.
“It’s what my parents use.
My dad worked at the steel plant. The credit unions have agreements with each other so I can use this branch with no fees,” he said.
Alterna’s history with Ryerson dates back to its days as a polytechnic institute.
Faculty members started the Ryerson Polytechnical Credit Union as a back office operation in the early 1970s, and joined the University and Colleges Credit Union (UNICOL) in 1976.
A series of mergers created Alterna in 2005. Alterna’s current president, John Lahey, is a Ryerson graduate, having earned a degree in Urban and Regional Planning in 1976.
Photo by: Chelsea Pottage