Ahead of the Annual General Meeting, President and CEO Guy Cormier answers frequently asked questions from members and clients. He looks back at 2021, talks about youth, and discusses the actions Desjardins will take to support young people to help their goals and dreams become a reality.
Despite the events of the past 2 years, Desjardins Group's financial performance has been strong. You could even say it was remarkable in 2021. Can you tell us more about that? Our surplus earnings before member dividends totalled $3 billion, up $500 million from the previous year. Our total assets surpassed $400 billion.
The results for 2021 were excellent! I'm proud to say that 82,000 new personal and business members joined Desjardins Group in 2021. That's the most since the early 2000s.
Our surplus earnings before member dividends totalled $3 billion, up $500 million from the previous year. Our total assets surpassed $400 billion.
Desjardins is the only financial cooperative of this size in North America and I think we're very well prepared to face the future.
How does being a cooperative group make you different?
Cooperation is a great strength that comes from our members. At its core, a cooperative is a group of people that have voluntarily joined together to meet a common need. We can see this strength at work every day with our team, who is determined to always do what's best for members and clients. We're here to listen to their rapidly changing needs, and our response has to be able to change just as quickly.
Desjardins is the only major Canadian financial institution that shares its profits with all of its members (who are also its owners), instead of shareholders. Its ownership will always stay with us because, as a cooperative, it is an indivisible collective asset.
Throughout our more than 122-year history, Desjardins has always been a cornerstone of financial and economic strength. The impact of our actions across Canada shows that Desjardins provides critical socioeconomic leadership in our country. For example, in 2021, we gave back more than $500 million to our members and the community through member dividends and contributions to key initiatives.
After more than 2 tough years, it feels like we're finally leaving the pandemic behind. What do you think the country's socioeconomic recovery will be like?
I think that, during the pandemic, people gained a deeper understanding of the meaning and importance of solidarity and mutual assistance. Going forward, all segments of society will need to work hard to ensure a strong socioeconomic recovery. Governments, corporations and community organizations will have to work together closely to meet the challenges before us.
We have to set the goal of building back better for the sake of our young people. And I think the best way to achieve this is to make all our big decisions based on what's in the best interest of our youth. Although the situation has improved, we're maintaining all the relief measures established 2 years ago for members and clients who are struggling financially. established 2 years ago for members and clients who are struggling financially.
Desjardins is also contributing to the economic recovery through the GoodSpark Fund and the Momentum Fund. Since the GoodSpark Fund was created, we've committed nearly $150 million to more than 650 projects, and plan to invest a total of $250 million by 2024.
For Desjardins, that's how a socioeconomic leader should act. It means being a positive force in our society that provides reassurance and inspiration.
Desjardins has been expanding outside Quebec for several years. How big is Desjardins in markets outside Quebec?
Desjardins operates everywhere in Canada, from Nova Scotia to British Columbia. We have entities and business units that offer a full range of financial and insurance services across the country.
In fact, Alphonse Desjardins helped create 18 caisses in Ontario, as well as the first credit union for federal civil servants.
In recent years, major acquisitions have bolstered Desjardins Group's activities outside Quebec, like the acquisitions of State Farm. They consolidate our presence in Canada, positioning Desjardins Group as the second biggest player in the country's P&C insurance market and the fifth largest life and health insurer.
Ontario, Western Canada and the Atlantic provinces are key markets for us. To give you an idea of their importance, in 2021, more than a third of our surplus earnings came from these markets.
We remain on the lookout for opportunities to grow through acquisitions or partnerships, as we did several years ago with other financial cooperatives in Canada.
During the pandemic, we offered direct support to business owners across Canada through our GoodSpark Grants. They're a $3 million fund specifically intended to support small businesses.
Through our GoodSpark Fund, we're also investing in innovative and important projects in Ontario. It's not just for Quebec. The same goes for our investments for youth.
You've often stated publicly that we should do more for our country's youth. Why are young people so important for you?
The pandemic has hit our young people particularly hard. It's taken a heavy toll on them, which means that all key stakeholders, whether they're in the public or private sector, need to pitch in. We have to keep young people's best interest in mind at all times.
And I want Desjardins to set an example. We all have a role to play, and businesses should lead the way. The crisis has given us a rare opportunity to redefine our priorities. The best way forward is to ask ourselves how every decision we make will affect our kids positively.
In concrete terms, as the leader of the largest cooperative financial institution in North America, how can you take action for young people? How can your organization support youth?
We have to listen to them and understand the extent of the challenges they face if we want to maintain a strong relationship with them. The issues that concern young people today are climate change, generational inequality due to our aging population and the increasing difficulty of buying a first home. As a cooperative financial institution, we have a role to play in reassuring and supporting young people with these issues.
Desjardins Group currently supports more than 3,000 organizations for young people. In 2021, we contributed a total of nearly $80 million to youth, whether it was through our flagship program Together For Our Youth, the Desjardins Foundation or some other means.
I want Desjardins to raise awareness across the country about our responsibility to them. In 2023, I want Desjardins to help organize a major youth event that will benefit younger generations. We want our young people to develop to their full potential and help make their dreams come true.