Chris Catliff is walking up the main staircase in the new, splendid, world-class building that BlueShore Financial calls home. As CEO and president, and the person who spearheaded the project, he is justifiably pleased with it. The North Vancouver office really makes a statement, right on Lonsdale Avenue and 13th Street, a short walk from Lions Gate Hospital.
The location is a kind of homage to the previous company name: North Shore Credit Union. That institution, founded in 1941 by 10 shipbuilders and fishermen, “was a decidedly blue-collar affair,” says Catliff. “They built it into a trustworthy, reliable financial business, providing great services to their clients.” But as the North Shore began evolving, the time arrived when “we knew we had to make a change, not only because we had branches all over the Lower Mainland, but because to grow our business, and provide our clients with the very finest in products and services, we wanted a brand that reflected that reality,” Catliff explains. So BlueShore was born.
Catliff points to the company’s hiring practices as crucial to growth and sustainable success. “We really strive to have the very best people on our team. Our clients expect it, and frankly, so do we, as a company. Trust is a huge factor in dealing with people’s business and personal finances.” This transformation into a full-service, boutique financial institution was steady and clear, but the company remains a credit union. “There has been a seismic change for our core client group. They are much more affluent now than they were 20 years ago,” says Catliff. “But with that comes plenty of challenges, and we want all of them to feel completely at ease as they discuss their financial challenges with us.” Long before the name change, BlueShore embarked on a significant physical alteration, making the locations less “bank-like”; instead, west coast-themed finishings such as locally-sourced stone and wood, abundant natural light, and plenty of artwork on the walls created what Catliff calls “financial spas.” He notes that “it is key that we have a name that matches the vision and growth of our brand, to reflect the realities of what we actually do for our clients. We want them to feel this sense of calm and ease when they come in to see us.”
The transformation process included re-training staff, all of whom now are certified financial planners. The days of tellers and lineups are long gone; now, it is a concierge and one-on-one interactions. You can still withdraw cash from an instant teller, of course, but the overall impact is of sophisticated service. Catliff even partnered with five-star hospitality services to conduct extensive concierge training sessions for BlueShore employees. “We really needed to raise our level of service,” he says. “Today’s clients are more and more educated, aware of their finances, and they need to be advised and served at a high level, not ‘sold’ anything.” Reflective of the success of the plan, BlueShore clients still number around the 42,000 mark, which has been consistent for nearly two decades. But the overall assets have risen, from $400 million in 2000, to nearly $5 billion in 2017. By any measure, that is a big success.
Part of any credit union’s mandate is community involvement, and BlueShore has done remarkable things, including sponsoring Whistler’s Cornucopia festival, and working with Capilano University to open the BlueShore Financial Centre for Performing Arts. The company is also the lead sponsor for the BlueShore Financial Environmental Learning Centre at the Squamish Cheakamus Centre, and is an Imagine Canada Caring Company; a minimum of one per cent of pre-tax profits goes to community donations and sponsorships.
The head office stands as an emblem of the brand. “We knew we had to change with the times, even try to be a little ahead,” says Catliff. “It wasn’t always easy, and there are always going to be challenges. But our employees adapted, our management team was solidly behind the changes, and I see a pretty bright future, especially for all our clients, present and future.” He is proud. He should be.
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