With a population of approximately 3,600, Bowen Island offers a quiet retreat from the city’s hustle and bustle with its sheltered bays, sandy beaches, and scenic trails. However, its island isolation, one of its most appealing characteristics, has also presented one of its most significant challenges. Though Bowen Island is only a 20-minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver, its relative inaccessibility and small population meant that residents went many years without a financial institution.
Regular car-ferry service to Bowen Island was implemented in 1958, making it possible to live on Bowen and commute to Vancouver. As the community grew, so did their need for banking and financial services on-island. For several decades, residents managed with Automated Teller Machines (often ‘white label’) and mainland lending services. However, the lack of basic banking services was particularly problematic for business owners who wasted hundreds of hours travelling to the mainland to do daily cash deposits or coin orders. At the turn of the century, Bowen Island had close to 200 businesses, a burgeoning real estate market and a growing population. The lack of banking services on Bowen Island had become a significant economic barrier for island residents and businesses; it was time to take action.
Bowen Island community members formed an advocacy group called ‘Banking on Bowen’ (BOB). The BOB committee approached financial institutions around the province in hopes of persuading one to come to the island. Most rejected the proposal on the basis that Bowen’s population could not support a financial institution and the belief that residents would not be willing to join an on-island institution with the wide range of competitive choices available to them just a short distance away. The BOB committee was not deterred and persisted in their search for a solution.
In 2006, a committee member was delighted to discover a small community credit union branch tucked away on Texada Island, serving a population of only 1200 residents. The Banking on Bowen committee approached First Credit Union with its proposal; it was the start of a unique and innovative partnership that was enthusiastically embraced by the community.
On First Credit Union’s 68th anniversary of incorporation, June 9, 2007, the First Credit Union Bowen Island Partnership Branch opened its doors. Membership grew steadily with current membership at more than 1,800 – approximately half of Bowen Island’s population. With strong community support, the branch quickly outgrew its first location. Today, First Credit Union Bowen Branch is a thriving, integral element of the community offering local expertise, accessibility to banking, employment, and community investment.