In 1938, the Social Credit government created a system of temporary financial institutions called Treasury Branches to give Albertans an alternative source of credit. The first ATB branch opened in Rocky Mountain House.
“My pension cheque came yesterday. I’ve saved this bill, hoping I can become the first person in Alberta to open a Treasury Branch account.”
Levi Smith went down in history as the first depositor at Alberta’s unique financial institution on September 29, 1938, at Rocky Mountain House, Alberta.
“I was born a farm kid, and we had a lot of respect for what the leaders of the time were doing. We respected the function of the Treasury Branch, which was to benefit the farmers and small business. That’s the reason I went to Treasury Branches. I felt some sort of bonding with them.”
Doug Ross, ATB customer since 1949
While bankers flocked back to Alberta to cash in on the oil and gas windfall, the Treasury Branches were also extremely active. ATB was scrambling to find new employees to staff 29 new branches and agencies, recruiting young people as they finished high school and hiring young men from farms.
Alberta’s first massive oil patch downturn left Albertans concerned about employment and growing government deficits. But in 1962, oil and gas development incentives created another boom. Budget surpluses quickly returned, and Edmonton expanded as the gateway to the North.
When the OPEC oil embargo boosted oil prices and the Alberta government began to formally encourage oil sands development, Alberta became the hot spot in Canada. As the province flourished, ATB opened new branches and established the first mobile branch in Canada to meet the needs of a growing population.
“In 1973, many people moved to Alberta from Ontario. I remember several newcomers saying to me, ‘I can’t believe the level of service we get from the bank here.’ I would tell them, ‘That's the Treasury Branch mandate. We’re supposed to provide good service.” Bill Orfino, ATB employee, 1947–1987
“When I came to Calgary, the local Treasury Branch helped me start a business. At that time they were the only ones that would give me money. I had bought a little place on the corner along the Trans-Canada Highway—a little ice-cream place. I had some money of my own, but the Treasury Branch helped me get some extra. So I went from there. I have been with the Treasury Branch ever since.” Gustav Pieters, owner of the famed Peters’ Drive-In, Calgary, 1979
In the face of a struggling economy and high interest rates, ATB implemented a program for farmers and small businesses to offset some costs, such as keeping a line on interest rates for them, and helping residential customers by giving them buy-down opportunities on high interest rates.
“I was in Fairview when the prime lending rate was close to 20%. Basically, you just tried. You worked out advances and worked with the clients. We wanted to help people out and we got pretty good. Managers got pretty creative. What could you do? These poor farmers had had three or four crop failures, one year after another. With the interest being as high as it was, they couldn’t pay. It was just a matter of working with them. My family were farmers, and they were feeling the crunch as well. You were part of it.”
Lena Kinley, ATB employee, 1967–1999
In the recovering economy, ATB focused on aligning services more closely with customer needs and positioning ATB as a competitive financial services provider. New technologies were adopted, but ATB remained focused on Albertan values.
We became a provincial Crown corporation in October 1997 under the authority of the Alberta Treasury Branches Act Chapter/Regulation A-37 RSA 2000 and Alberta Treasury Branches Regulation 187/1997.
In January 2002, we launched a new look, ATB Financial. We made the change to confirm the business we are in—providing a full range of financial services to Alberta—and our commitment to the people of our province.
Throughout the decade, we continued to grow and to add to our services and products so we could meet the needs of more Albertans.
ATB Financial is taking a giant leap forward to deliver the best possible financial services to Albertans. Our upgraded banking system will make it easier for customers to manage their money and bank with ATB.
“We’re changing our banking system at ATB. It might not sound very exciting, but we’re proud of the fact that we’re bringing you one of the most current, safe and reliable banking systems in the world to manage and safeguard your money.”
Dave Mowat, President and CEO