Lise de Moissac spent five years in law enforcement before discovering a love for management and returning to university in pursuit of a business degree. Today, the mother of two is the senior vice president and CFO for Affinity Credit Union (ACU). The member-owned cooperative is one of the largest in Canada, with 892 employees and 132,000 members. ACU encourages its employees to strike a healthy work-life balance, and for de Moissac, that means making the most of Saskatchewan’s great outdoors. “I don’t like to sit still,” she says. In a recent interview with Advantage, the traveller, avid golfer, and part-time triathlete shared how her need for adventure drives her personal and professional lives forward.
Advantage: What drew you to working with credit unions?
Lise de Moissac: I started working in public practice and only felt like a necessary part of a process because I was an accountant who jumped into a company during a year-end audit. You see a business for 3 out of 52 weeks and remain an outsider. I have a huge love for business and am a change agent. I wanted to be part of how a business succeeds and started looking at the private sector. Since I had been a credit union member since I was a little girl, finding an opportunity to be a controller at a local credit union was appealing, especially because credit unions are local and I could stay in Saskatchewan.
Was it intimidating to change sectors and industries?
I had been through the numbers for a variety of businesses, so that helped. In public practice, I was expected to know the numbers behind the business story. Credit unions felt the same way.
Affinity has changed a lot since you joined in 1998. What’s that been like?
We now have $4.5 billion in assets. When I started, we had seven branches, and through mergers and partnerships, we now have more than 70. I’ve really enjoyed being a part of that growth and change. We also have a number of insurance agencies, a property company, a financial-advisory company, and a tech company. We’ve also restructured several times. It’s been rewarding to be so active over the years.
In that growth, ACU has developed a unique structure. What’s behind that?
I really think this is one of the most groundbreaking things we’ve done. We have a board of directors, and in our partnerships and mergers, we’ve left former boards intact so [that] they still have a voice.
Lise de Moissac’s
Works an early job in law enforcement, which leads to a passion for management
Obtains a business degree from the University of Lethbridge
Accepts a position as controller at the Saskatoon Credit Union and moves from public- to private-practice accounting
Joins ACU as a controller
Takes the place of ACU’s CFO after he retires
Helps lead a major merger at ACU
Provides oversight as ACU forms partnerships with five other credit unions, taking its total assets to $4.5 billion
What advantages does that bring?
We call these former boards “district councils.” They are geographically diverse and have elected members. They also appoint members to the larger board of directors. This keeps us very close to our membership so [that] we’re never seen as a remote head office. It keeps us relevant, and it’s very important during aggressive growth. In 2008, we partnered with a credit union of equal [to double] size. In 2013, three smaller credit unions partnered [with us], and another two larger ones [did so] in the summer of 2013. This strategy will serve us well into the future.
How does being accountable to your members change strategy?
We have to be mindful of this at all times. Bank CFOs focus on their investors and are therefore more profit-driven. Our member owners want us to consider profits but not simply return money as a dividend. They want us to do well in communities. The deposits we gather locally are lent locally. Every loan we make does good in the community. Builders might build affordable homes, or a loan might let someone go to school. Profit is part of the picture, but it’s not the only thing for us. Additionally, between five and six percent of our pretax profit goes back into the community for a number of initiatives.
Affinity also fosters the human element in the workplace. How does it do so?
Our employees get paid time off to volunteer, and they each get $200 to spend on a community activity every year. I also work to understand what motivates a team, what scares them, and what questions they have. In our dynamic environment, no one year is ever the same as the one that came before it. Knowing what drives a team to perform is what drives a credit union to succeed. We believe in serving our staff. A big part of my job is clearing up roadblocks to what they do, and we do this by changing roles or tweaking responsibilities or getting employees away to training or development events. We have a history of long-tenured employment, and we want to keep that true for a new demographic of employees who demand a high level of satisfaction at work.
How else do you plan to keep the credit union moving forward?
We’ve had a lot of changes, so we’ll work hard to check in and make sure our personnel are okay after a massive change, and we need to make sure our systems and our technologies are meshing well. The first 18 months after a new partnership are critical. We’ll also keep going on technology improvements. We were the first institution in Canada to offer remote deposit capture, through which customers can photograph their checks to make a deposit without visiting a branch. To get ahead of our larger competitors was a major [win] for us. Right now, we share the top spot with another competitor in our province, and we’re looking to continue our growth and our improvement as we serve our members well.