‘If a movement for economic regeneration, or any other movement, is to have a chance of succeeding, it must arise within the very heart of the people’ – Alphonse Desjardins. Excerpted from an article in L’Action Sociale, May 12, 1908

It’s been a while since we had a look at some mutual history from around the world so here is a short history of the Desjardins Group.

The Canadian credit union movement had a large influence on the Australian credit union movement. It is where Kevin Yates, ‘the father of the Australian credit union movement’, learned about credit unions and it is where the Antigonish movement began, which also had adherents in Australia. Founded in 1900 the Desjardins Group is said to be the jewel in the Canadian mutual crown.

The man behind the group was Alphonse Desjardins who studied co-operatives in Europe after becoming concerned about usurious practices in North America. It is still going strong today with 7.7 million members and clients, 56 165 employees and 2379 elected directors.

An article in the May 1988 edition of Australian Credit Unions Magazine in our collection featured the group which much of this piece draws on.

The Desjardins Group is a network of integrated financial services all operating on co-operative principles. The individual mutuals that make up the network are called caisses. Here is an extensive section from the Australian Credit Unions Magazine article:

The caisses populaires and caisses d’économie form the foundation on which the Group is built. They are the key, providing members with access to a complete range of regular and specialised financial services; but they represent much more than that.

Caisses populaires operate at the neighbourhood or local level, while caisses d’économie represent the joint endeavours of members in the same workplace or sharing the same occupation. Both types are created by individuals who, together, have the desire to influence their own economic development.

Here is the Desjardins Group structure today:

In the last half century the group has acquired other entities in order to help its own administration and also to offer caisse members broader financial services. For example, the Group owns 20 subsidiary companies in life and general insurance, securities brokerage, venture capital and asset management.



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