Big, bold, innovative! These words certainly describe Meridian Credit Union, a leader in Ontario’s credit union landscape. Born out of a merger between the Niagara Credit Union and HEPCOE Credit Union, Meridian Credit Union first opened its doors on April 1, 2005. At the cusp of the merger, Meridian had about 180,000 members and approximately $3.5 billion in assets under management. The merger also resulted in a network of 41 branches and four commercial business centres in 34 Ontario communities
Today, Meridian boasts $11 billion in assets under management — triple the original figure, over 1,300 employees and more than a quarter of a million members through a network of 67 branches and seven business centres. Moreover, the credit union is Ontario’s largest. Meridian’s 10-year history shows a strong growth agenda that is propelling the company toward even more expansion.
The growth agenda
Claudette Knight, Meridian’s Vice President of Talent Management and Development, said the credit union is focused on expanding and making more Ontarians aware of its unique brand of cooperative banking. To that end, Meridian has successfully completed two takeovers in the past seven years, including the purchase of 19 branches from Desjardins Credit Union in 2011 to add $1.4 billion in assets. In addition, Meridian opened three new locations in Ontario in 2014, and plans to open even more. So what is Meridian’s secret?
“I think the key to our success has been our employees’ ability to live the brand,” said Knight. She noted that the company’s CEO has often said Meridian’s “secret sauce” is that it excels at providing customer-members with superior relationship-based financial services. According to Knight, the company looks at every decision through the eyes of its members to see if it passes the acid test of bringing value and staying true to its brand promise of “having our members’ backs.” She emphasized that employees live that brand promise every day through the provision of exceptional service and by treating every member with respect, regardless of their net worth.
Culture and people
Engaging employees and incorporating them into the organization’s culture has proven to be a key factor in Meridian’s success. Employees perform better when they feel understood, valued, engaged and appreciated in their work environment, and at Meridian its a top priority. Knight says Meridian’s culture is highly collaborative, as well as relationship and results-oriented. She added that both frontline and corporate office staff have a shared commitment to seek continuously to provide better service and solutions for members and for the communities where Meridian does business. The organization’s leaders and managers are equally committed to creating an environment where employees are highly engaged, feel that they do their best every day and that “they matter.”
The employee experience at Meridian is deeply rooted in its member experience as the company is there to help grow the lives of employees personally, financially and professionally. “Our people programs are designed to achieve this goal,” outlined Knight.
As part of innovative practices to build its employees, Meridian encourages its people to take ownership of their career. She added that to help this process, Meridian has implemented a variety of developmental opportunities ranging from in-class training, online modules, secondments and job shadowing. “Our innovative Bright Ideas program encourages employees to be part of the growth of Meridian by submitting ideas on how to improve processes, enhance the member and/or employee experience and tell us about new ideas for product development.” This, along with Meridian’s strong culture of engagement, provides opportunities for employees to voice what’s on their mind. An important factor is that the company is committed to continuously reviewing and/or developing programs that help grow the lives of its employees.
Additionally, Meridian’s leading financial benefits allow employees to grow financially.
Health and Wealth
We have always heard that our health is our greatest wealth, and I am sure that also rings true for companies serious about growth and longevity. When employees are physically and psychologically at their best, they are more inclined to engage themselves fully in the organization and work toward achieving its strategic goals and objectives. Meridian recognizes this and has in place a wellness program that educates employees to make the right choices for their health. According to Knight, Meridian takes a holistic approach in supporting employees in all aspects of their health and well being including physical, mental and financial health. These initiatives include:
- Promotion of work-life balance through a vacation program, three wellness days and the implementation of flexible working arrangements
- On-site workshops that explore various lifestyle topics
- A wellness program that features a different health topic each month as well as a centralized portal that houses valuable information on health and wellness topics
- An annual health challenge which has seen more than 60% of participants make positive changes to their healthy lifestyles
- Return to work program that is designed around the disabled individuals’ abilities with the majority of cases resulting in a successful return to work
- The facilitation of a third party medical opinion service to help employees better understand their medical diagnosis and treatment options
- Banking benefits that provide access to reduced lending and preferred savings rates to help employees achieve their financial goals
- A pension plan with competitive employer contributions.
A leader in engagement
Meridian certainly seems to be making all the right moves, and its initiatives to engage its workforce have not gone unnoticed. In 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2015, Meridian was recognized as one of the 50 most engaged workplaces in North America. This annual award acknowledges top employers who display leadership and innovation in engaging their workplaces. It is awarded by Achievers, an organization that provides an employee success platform designed to engage, align and recognize employees. Additionally, Meridian has been recognized as one of the country’s top employers by Canada’s Top 100 Employers and has received several awards over the years for its employee communications campaigns from CPRS Toronto’s Achieving Communication Excellence (ACE).
Meridian takes pride in the nods it has received for its innovative people practices and ensures that its employees feel just as appreciated for their hard work through an internal recognition and awards program. The credit union believes that supporting a culture of recognition will increase employee engagement and drive performance. Knight explained that employees are recognized and rewarded through a number of unique and innovative ways. “Our online recognition and reward program is a self-service, points-based program that empowers our employees and provides them with the tools and ability to show appreciation for one another.” The program recognition criteria supports Meridian’s brand and strategic objectives, as well as the achievement of business results. Employees are able to share in each other’s successes through an online newsfeed, which highlights real time recognitions. They are able to share in their co-workers’ joy by commenting on or “liking” the recognition, and observe real examples of what it means to demonstrate Meridian’s brand promise.
Knight noted that Meridian has seen successful program usage, with an account activation rate of 99%. “Since the launch of this program, the employee engagement score linked to recognition has increased from 3.96 to 4.18 out of 5; a meaningful difference is defined as 0.10.” She stated that in 2014, Meridian was able to prove a positive correlation between branches with high scores in employee engagement and recognition with superior individual performance and overall branch financial results in the areas of loans, deposits and wealth balance growth, as well as other sales and service indicators.
Knight said she is most proud of the company’s steadfast commitment to maintaining its values, as it grows in the Ontario marketplace. “We are embracing a lot of new ideas and seeking to cultivate more innovation across our organization, at every level, which is exciting,” she added.
With such innovative and bold approaches, one can certainly see why the company has been recognized and awarded throughout the years. Meridian certainly seems to have locked into what it means to engage and build employees for a successful business, and demonstrates this through its people practices.
As for the future? Canada’s banking sector should look out as Meridian could be taking its award-winning business model country-wide as regulations to allow credit unions to expand coast-to-coast are being explored. Meridian is one of two credit unions that have led the charge to expand to a federal regime.
Because of its commitment to its growth agenda which has at its base the health and wealth of its employees, their engagement in the workplace and the provision of exceptional services to its members, Meridian will likely continue to be a company that leads the way for Ontario’s credit union arena. The company has certainly proven that a more engaged workforce, one that buys into the vision, strategies and objectives of an organization, is a powerful force for success.