Jul 13 2012

Corporate Governance in Canadian and US Credit Unions


Credit union governance can be likened to finding that elusive pivot point on a playground teeter-totter, the sweet spot that balances three different dimensions—the interests of members/owners, the oversight responsibilities of directors, and the operational role of management. Using another metaphor, the governance literature refers to these three dimensions as a three-legged stool.

This report, a collaborative effort between the Filene Research Institute and the Credit Union Central of Canada, with participation from the Desjardins Group, follows on two recent governance projects: Tracking the Relationship Between Credit Union Governance and Performance and a three-part series by Professor Robert Hoel about how boards can add more value. Beyond these, the academic literature of corporate governance is well developed, so this study includes an in-depth review of financial institution governance research and calls out the differences between credit unions and other firms. Also, because surveys can only go so far in teasing out insights, the authors followed up with a dozen interviews with credit unions of all sizes across all three major North American credit union systems.

Because the report is survey-based, large swaths of the findings compare major and minor details of different (and often not-so-different) approaches to governance in the three systems and among differently sized credit unions. From those comparisons, some interesting differences emerge. For example, as a federated system, Desjardins excels at some aspects of board development and system governance in ways that the more atomized US and Canadian credit union systems do not.

Report Number 274