Commonly called caisses d'économie1 (savings caisses), the Desjardins group caisses of Quebec are financial services cooperatives that provide services in the workplace and to a few cultural communities.
The 39 group caisses serve over 265,000 members who work for 700 businesses and public or semipublic organizations in Quebec. The caisses are present in several sectors, including education, health, public services (municipal and governmental), industry, solidarity economics, culture, telecommunications and high technology. There are also caisses that represent the Portuguese, Polish and Lithuanian communities.
The group caisses are gathered within a provincial Executive Division, headed by Desjardins Group. This entity provides its affiliated caisses with diversified services for business strategy, financial management, sales, market development, work organization and methods, human resources and communications.
Created and managed by workers, for workers
Besides providing all the financial products and services available from Desjardins Group, group caisses offer workers expert advice that is adapted to their workplace, their level of income and their personal and professional circumstances.
Their secret is knowledge
Knowledge of the businesses or organizations their members work for, their issues and concerns, their unions, working conditions, salaries, pension plans and benefits. This intrinsic knowledge of the community and its members gives these caisses the means to carry out their financial, budgetary and retirement planning in an even more efficient manner.
Workplaces and organizations are at the very heart of the caisses. The caisses are highly attuned to their members, reflecting their ambitions, needs and dreams. At the meeting of the board of directors, all the administrators elected by the members at the general meeting are on equal footing. Whether they are machinists, retirees, managers, support staff or professionals, all are responsible for determining the guiding principles of their financial cooperatives and implementing projects to improve the economic and social well-being of their members
1. A great majority of group caisses have the words "caisse d'économie" in their legal name.
Created by working communities and union associations
The Canadian National railway and Canadian Pacific railway employees, for example, and the Montreal firefighters and police officers, founded their caisses in the 1940s. However, most of the caisses d'économie were created in Quebec in the 1960s. They were based on the model provided by their southern counterparts, the American credit unions.
At the time of the Quiet Revolution, workers found it difficult to borrow from traditional financial institutions. With no homes, property, or capital, they had no collateral but their own ability to work. They were forced to turn to finance companies with very high interest rates for financing. Many workers were soon in serious debt.
In light of this situation, groups of workers, with the help of their unions or associations, created their own financial tool with one main method of saving: payroll deduction.
By putting aside a few dollars each week from their paychecks, the workers quickly gathered enough capital to provide services through financial service cooperatives, created, owned and managed by the members.
In 1962, the group caisses founded a French-speaking federation, the Fédération des caisses d'économie du Québec, and 17 years later, in 1979, they joined Desjardins Group.
In 2001, they merged with the Fédération des caisses Desjardins du Québec, gathering within the Group Caisses Executive Division.
In Quebec, Alphonse Desjardins forged the tool that would economically liberate the people of Quebec, the caisses populaires. Alphonse Desjardins was a visionary and he initiated what is certainly the most important collective achievement in Quebec.
While responding to the call for help from his fellow Quebecers living in the northern United States, Alphonse Desjardins realized that it was factories and not churches, that were playing the leading role in social planning in that part of America. So Alphonse Desjardins began founding new cooperatives in workplaces and businesses. As these same businesses moved to Quebec, the cooperatives became the first English-speaking caisses d'économies in Quebec, the credit unions.
Since 2001, many group caisses have merged together as part of an extensive reorganization process initiated by Desjardins Group, decreasing the number of caisses from 92 to 39.
Several of these caisses have expanded beyond the administrative areas in which they were originally located, rising to a national level with service centres throughout Quebec. The Caisse d'économie de l'éducation, for example, provides services to teaching professionals in the Greater Montreal area, Montérégie, Quebec City, as well as the Bas-Saint-Laurent and Gaspésie. Other caisses at the national level include the Caisse d'économie du personnel du Réseau de la santé, the Caisse d'économie solidaire Desjardins, the Caisse d'économie Desjardins des travailleurs unis, the Caisse d' économie Hydro and the Caisse Desjardins du personnel de l'Administration et des Services publics.
The mergers of the caisses d'économie have led to a more efficient use of the financial cooperatives' human, technical and operational resources, ensuring that the member-owners profit from the caisses' enormous potential in terms of expertise and quality of service.
Our goal for the future is to implement product and services distribution models in each of the group caisses that are perfectly adapted to their members' needs and the communities to which they belong. To do so, the group caisses will need to use their talents and creativity. They will have to listen to their communities to initiate structuring and sustainable projects with their partners and their members. These projects will prove the caisses' social and economic commitment, which is consistent with the values they have promoted since the beginning: democracy, community spirit, autonomy and freedom.
As group caisses face the coming globalisation, a predicted labour shortage and expanding cultural communities, they will have to occupy their field of competence more than ever before. The caisses must also, individually and collectively, continue to strengthen the close link they have always maintained with workers' groups. The caisses will have to inform and train workers through economic educational programs created and promoted with the help of Quebec unions.
This is the great challenge we will face in the coming years.