Canadian financial institutions often pin their marketing campaigns around achieving grand dreams. The dream house. The dream car. And yes, the dream vacation.
But for many Canadians, the reality is that they're soaked in debt and just trying to get by.
Who's speaking to them?
This month, Surrey-based Coast Capital stepped forward with a marketing approach far more grounded in the day-to-day concerns of many Canadians. The "We're for real" campaign doesn't shoot for the stars.
Instead, it tries to meet the credit union's members where they're at today.
"The campaign is all about the real difference that comes with banking with a member-owned cooperative," Coast Capital marketing vice president Andrew Rusk told the Straight by phone.
This "We're for real" approach acknowledges that many consumers are looking for something between a large chartered bank reporting to shareholders and the latest app generated by the fintech sector.
"Canadians should be able to have have partnership and advice that they can trust with a partner that cares how things net out at the end of the day," Rusk said. "Because we're member-owned, we report to our members. We don't report to Bay Street.
"We don't report to anybody else," he added, "which means the products we build, the experiences we create, and ultimately the advice we give to members is rooted in the best interest of our membership as opposed to anything else."
According to Statistics Canada, consumer credit and mortgage liabilities were 163.36 percent above disposable income in the first quarter of 2021. That means for every dollar of disposable income, Canadians owed $1.63 on average.
While that's still below the all-time high of $1.81, it's still imposing a large burden.
Perhaps an even more disturbing statistic was found in the National Bank of Canada's most recent Housing Affordability Monitor. It suggested that it costs 27.2 percent more to buy a two-bedroom condo in Vancouver in comparison to renting.
Just to afford a "representative condo", it would require a household annual income of $131,975 in Vancouver, according to the monitor. There was a 68.6 percent "premium" for buying in Vancouver in comparison to the national urban composite.
As a millennial who moved back to Vancouver after living in Ontario for several years, Rusk is fully aware of the high cost of housing in Vancouver.
"We set the expectations of what is attainable and meet members at their level, based off the needs of what they have in that moment," Rusk said. "And that’s why at Coast Capital, every new relationship starts with something we call a 'money chat'."
That's an assessment of where members are at, where they want to be going, what they feel strongly about, and also that might be creating anxiety from a financial perspective.
According to Rusk, it's not realistic anymore to think that you can buy a home without having a plan in place to get there.
"We’re able to have those conversations with members at a much more intimate and familiar level in order to help make a plan for the future that works,” he said.
The Straight asked Rusk if that meant sometimes encouraging members to generate passive income to put them in a better position to become a homeowner in the future.
“It very often does," he replied, "because by having a conversation with members that encapsulates the whole financial picture—as opposed to a more transactional banking relationship that you can expect from one of the major banks—it allows us to have a more realistic conversation about the future that our members envision, as well as what products and services and opportunities are best for them."
That includes an appreciation for the growing importance of the gig economy.
"That’s not just the food deliveries or the Ubers of the world," Rusk emphasized.
It also encompasses entrepreneurial-minded members who are launching their own businesses on the side while retaining their primary income over the short to medium term.
"We’re keeping an open mind on exploring all of the different ways that we can help our members and our future members achieve the goals and make those goals real—and get beyond just the dreams that we tell people they can achieve.”
Coast Capital reported having 594,000 members in its most recent annual report, making it the largest credit union in Canada by this measurement. It has $20.9 billion in assets and posted net income of $35.3 million in 2020.
It has subsidiaries focusing on wealth management, financial management, and auto and equipment finance.