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COK, NCU partnership fuels new strategy

COK Sodality Cooperative Credit Union has signed an agreement with Northern Caribbean University to set up a branch on its Mandeville campus that will not only offer financial services to staff and students, but will also facilitate NCU’s work-study programme.

The university has a student population of around 4,000.

“That is very important,” said NCU President Professor Lincoln Edwards.

“Our business students can have access to internships within the credit union. This will give great facilitation to the students in business and finance,” he told the Financial Gleaner in an interview.

Edwards also sees possibilities for collaborations on corporate social responsibility projects.

Northern Caribbean University has long had a work-study programme that allows students to pay their way through college, working at various levels on the university campus by day and attending classes in the afternoons.

COK Sodality CEO Deryke Smith says membership at the new branch will be open to NCU students and alumnae, faculty members, other staff, and their families. The credit union is also considering setting up other branches at other NCU locations.

“This is just a start. The key to this, though, is that we’re tapping into the tech savviness, so to speak, of the NCU family, and we will be putting in the systems and infrastructure that will leverage this reality,” Smith said.

For COK Sodality, central Jamaica offers an opportunity for credit unions. With the decline of bauxite mining a concurrent migration of skills in search of opportunity, Smith said, traditional banks have reduced their footprint in the region over time.

At NCU, for example, apart from a single Scotiabank ATM at the front of the expansive Mandeville campus, persons at NCU have to otherwise make a long trek to the town centre to do banking business.

Still, the branch being set up by COK Sodality will be cashless, but it, too, will install an ATM to take care of members’ cash needs. The staff will provide financial information and make COK services available.

“We believe that we can actually onboard NCU students to become sales representatives of COK. They can participate by earning commissions from their activities with the credit union,” said Smith, adding that COK was always on the lookout for fresh talent, and the internship programme would serve to identify potential recruits.

Under the agreement reached by the institutions, NCU will collaborate with COK to provide training for its staff at preferential rates. In addition, COK will partner with NCU in the implementation of community-based programmes as well as corporate social responsibility projects. One of those efforts is the operation of the outreach section of the university’s business school.

Professor Edwards says the Morris Entrepreneurship Centre, which helps community members with training and access to pursue their business dreams will also be part of the arrangement.

“At the centre, we have young people from the community who we train. They have ideas, but they don’t know how to put it together to get a loan. We will work with them and COK to make that happen,” Edwards said.

For COK Sodality, the move on to the NCU campus is part of a strategic shift at the credit union. On Monday, September 26, the credit union will downsize and relocate its Mandeville branch to Caledonia Mall. COK is relocating from Perth Road, which at one time was utilised as an NCB branch that shuttered in the late 2000s. Smith says the lack of parking and the relative remoteness from the town centre necessitated the move to Caledonia Mall.

COK Sodality manages $7.3 billion in assets and $6.2 billion of savings for about 245,000 members. It claims to have the largest membership base among the credit unions in Jamaica and the English-speaking Caribbean.

The tech-focused branch to be established at NCU will become the sixth in the network. The other branches are located at Cross Roads and Half Way Tree in Kingston; Portmore in St Catherine, Montego Bay in St James, and Mandeville in Manchester.

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