Credit unions can be an alternative to banks

Credit unions have been enduring success stories and provide a vital service, says Gary Hanrahan, Business Development & Marketing Officer at Douglas Credit Union
Credit unions can be an alternative to banks

A sponsorship deal is announced between Cork Credit Unions and Cork City FC Academy in 2020.

THE national financial system is in a state of disarray, with banks leaving the market and others closing offices throughout the country.

People’s confidence in the Irish banking system has been rocked and they are beginning to look at their options. Credit unions are rooted in the communities they serve and provide members with a credible alternative.

All credit unions are member-owned, each member gets a voice in how it is run. As credit unions are not for profit, rates and fees are designed to reinvest directly in services to their members, not line the pockets of outside investors.

An ever-growing number of Cork Credit Unions now offer their members mortgages, current accounts, agricultural loans, Business Loans, online banking, and much more. The introduction of mortgages by credit unions was seen as a major step but there are restrictions there that hamper credit unions’ capacity to partake fully in the Irish market.

Surely it is time for a local, welcoming institution not powered by short-term profit but by its members’ long-term interests.

 This institution is not only committed to its members but practices an ethos that makes people a priority while putting its profits back into improving its services and the local community.

Credit unions have remained open throughout the Covid-19 pandemic as an essential service, supporting the communities they serve, in many cases going above and beyond, guaranteeing that people’s and communities’ financial needs are met. 

Cork credit unions ensure communities are financially backed and have the room to be entrepreneurial, to innovate, and to spend within their local economies.

As of the financial year-end September, 2020, the total loans outstanding for Cork Credit Unions was €651 million. The vast majority of this is spent within Cork communities. The group has even more available to lend, with a total of €1.2bn there for Cork. 

There is room for Cork’s credit unions to do even more.

Credit unions are continuing to develop their range of services and with the right regulatory reform can further meet people’s financial needs. There has been much discussion and deliberation on credit unions, translating into minimal policy changes, very few of which are sufficiently forward-thinking to enable credit unions to develop in the manner many now wish to do.

Legislation must be underpinned by the need to unlock the full potential of credit unions in the delivery of services and facilities that meet member needs.

Thankfully, we have representatives in government who see the potential of Credit Unions. A key part of this is to fill a void now left in the Irish mortgage market.

Michael Creed (TD) recently stated: “I believe our credit unions are a sleeping giant with the potential to overhaul the Irish mortgage market. With 326 branches and 3.6 million members across the country, Ireland has one of the highest numbers of credit union members per head of population. Yet there is untapped potential. There is a total of circa €14.8bn savings in our credit unions, but just circa €4.9 bn in loans.”

Deputy Creed pointed out that integrating credit unions into the mortgage market could also allow a community banking sector to flourish.

The services Cork Credit Unions offer are all provided by real people in more than 30 offices serving every inch of Cork.

Credit Unions are one of only two brands to have maintained a Top 10 position since the CXi awards began in 2015, which is a phenomenal achievement, particularly as they have widened the gap in scores between themselves and the second-placed brand.

A key factor is their relentless focus on understanding what matters most to members and being able to deliver it in the experiences they give them. This is a global first and a testament to the person-focused approach that credit unions take to their services.

From supporting local businesses to launching local sustainability projects and giving communities financial support — Cork credit unions are doing what they do best: helping people.

Cork Credit Unions is a county-wide initiative among the many credit unions in Cork, combining their resources to work as one in several areas. One such initiative is the sponsorship of Cork City FC’s Academy, an expression of working together and investing in local. Cork Credit Unions have come together to establish stronger relationships with Cork-focused initiatives. This collaboration between Credit Unions is a key philosophy by which we operate, helping us to provide award-winning service.

As co-operatives, they share the same ethos as the members of Cork City FC, helping to make this partnership such a great fit.

Alongside major collective sponsorships, individual credit unions make numerous contributions in each of their communities, from supporting local community groups to the local GAA team. Cork credit unions are community-focused always because we are the people we serve.

In conclusion, Cork Credit Unions are member-owned, not for profit financial co-operatives that will be there for the people of Cork always. They have been there for people since the very beginning, providing access to finance. Your credit union has never been this connected to members or offered as many services.

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