Irish credit unions are successful, reliable and trusted, enduring for six decades in Ireland, because they operate in a unique way, completely differently to the banks.
There are more than 260 credit unions affiliated to the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) in the Republic of Ireland, with more than three million members. Membership has increased by 250,000 since 2012 and continues to rise. The reasons for this are many. First and foremost, we genuinely care about our members and our credit unions have the local autonomy to develop products and services that meet the specific needs of their members.
Due in no small part to the fact that we consistently prioritise our members above all else, credit unions have been ranked the best in Ireland for customer experience for the third consecutive year. The 2017 CXi Ireland Customer Experience report evaluated more than 170 brands for qualities such as integrity, personalisation, time & effort, and resolution. It was credit unions that again blazed a trail across all of these categories, and once again topped the national league table. Credit unions were the only organisation in the CX’s financial services category to make it into the top ten. There were two banks in the top 100, both in joint 89th position.
Credit unions are owned and controlled by their members, servicing the financial needs of their communities on a not-for-profit basis, advocating a philosophy of equality, democracy and mutual self-help. Credit unions are a life-line for many in the communities they serve, offering accessible financial services to people, many of whom have had the door closed on them by the banks.
It is clear that credit union members want to do more with their local credit union. In an effort to assist credit unions to enter the mortgage market in a more comprehensive way, and to introduce some badly needed diversity to the Irish mortgage market, the ILCU is developing a centralised support service for its affiliated credit unions. We are doing so in response to significant demand from our members.
Simultaneously we are pushing forward with our social mandate and our commitment to improving local communities across Ireland. We estimate that credit unions have at least €1bn of surplus funds available to make a real difference in easing some of the housing shortages. These surplus funds can be used to fund the building by Approved Housing Bodies of social housing, which could ultimately have a significant impact in helping to ease some pressure in the housing market.
The ILCU has been tirelessly lobbying the Government to use credit union surplus funds, but regrettably – and after a number of years of lobbying – there has been no action taken to date. This despite the Government requesting the movement to deploy its funds in this area. However, we will continue to put pressure on the Government on this crucial issue. We are committed to fulfilling our social mission, which is at the heart of our movement.
Contrast this with the recent tracker mortgage debacle in the banking sector and the treatment of thousands of tracker mortgage customers. It is difficult not to be moved by the accounts of ordinary, hard-working people whose lives have been adversely impacted by this.
The credit union movement itself has its own challenges- business model challenges for one, where the level of lending, as a percentage of assets, remains too low and needs to rise. Secondly, the movement has enhanced its own compliance culture to meet exacting and onerous standards set down by the Central Bank of Ireland.
Credit unions have forged a strong bond with members – a bond that is built on trust. No matter what future challenges may arise and no matter what the economic tide may bring, our people – our members will always come first.