MONTREAL, Quebec (3/1/11)--The Desjardins Group reported a 34% surge in earnings--to $1.44 billion--last year as its caisses populaires (credit unions) network stepped up its home mortgage and business lending activities and its' insurance and fund management units improved their performance. As a result, Desjardins--the largest financial cooperative in Quebec--has declared member dividends of $307 million for 2010, up from $282 million in 2009 and $186 million in 2008 (Montreal Gazette Feb. 26). The dividends will be credited to members after formal approval during the Desjardins Group's annual meetings in April. Desjardins CEO Monique Leroux said the organization is letting go some of its operating activities to focus more on longer-term strategies, governance, organization and expansion outside Quebec. She noted that the farming sector in Ontario is underserved by big banks and that Desjardins has a strong presence in eastern Ontario. Desjardins' $443 million acquisition of Western Financial Group should be in place next month, she said. Roughly half of Desjardins Group's total revenues now are accrued from outside Quebec.