By Mike Pearson, News staff
Dave Schurman has 100,000 reasons for moving FirstOntario Credit Union’s corporate head office to Stoney Creek.
As the largest financial institution with a head office in Hamilton, FirstOntario has enjoyed exponential growth, despite a global economic downturn. Schurman, FirstOntario’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, was on hand when the company broke ground on a 30,000 square-foot corporate office expansion on Monday at 435 McNeilly Rd. Located along the QEW at South Service Road, the new site will be viewed daily by 100,000 motorists. Schurman hopes a few of them will become new member/owners.
“We’ve been busting at the seams for the last few years,” said Schurman. During the last five years, the financial institution has grown from about 65,000 member/owners to close to 100,000. FirstOntario will move its existing corporate office at the corner of Upper Sherman and Queensdale Avenues to the McNeilly Road site. The building is expected to open by the summer of 2014. The Upper Sherman building has been sold, but Schurman said the credit union will maintain the branch and renovate the building to enhance customer service. Remaining office space will be leased to other businesses.
Close to 100 staff will work at the McNeilly Road site.
In addition to the growth of its membership, FirstOntario’s staff has expanded by more than 25 per cent over the last five years. The company has opened several new branches in Hamilton Mountain, Ancaster and Dundas in recent years. New branches have been equipped with remote tellers, called PAT tellers, which interact with members through a live video feed. The technology has allowed FirstOntario to open new branches in storefronts that would otherwise be too small for a conventional branch.
“We’re approaching 350 employees,” said Schurman. “The use of technology allows us to serve members efficiently, but also we need to add new staff.”
Through a recent merger with Rochdale Credit Union, FirstOntario will feature 27 locations in Hamilton, Halton, Niagara, Haldmand, Norfolk and Oxford County. Ten branches have been added in the last five years.
Losani Homes is constructing the three-storey FirstOntario building, which will expand upon an existing commercial complex anchored by Pearson Dunn Insurance Brokers. William Liske, general counsel for Losani Homes, said Losani will retain ownership of the building. A long-term lease has been negotiated with FirstOntario.
Over the last two years, FirstOntario has rolled out an aggressive marketing campaign emphasizing the advantages of credit union membership, which includes an ownership share of the financial institution.
“We’re certainly not a bank,” said Carey Smith, FirstOntario board chair. “Money is an important thing, but it’s not the only thing.”
Keanin Loomis, president and chief executive officer of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, said the success of FirstOntario led him to become a member himself.
Dave Cage, executive director of the Stoney Creek Chamber of Commerce, is a retired banker. But on more than one occasion, he’s directed chamber members to FirstOntario, which generated positive feedback.
“Thank you for getting into the business of helping business,” Cage told FirstOntario executives.
In a tongue-and-cheek response, Schurman replied, “We don’t bash the banks. We just beat them in service and beat them in rates.”