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All credit unions are not the same
So often, the words " credit union " bring to mind thoughts of financial difficulty and even financial exclusion. It's true that the origins of credit unions worldwide arise from the desire to help those who have encountered challenges in their financial affairs.
That's just the beginning, though.
As the credit union sector has developed in a vast range of countries across the world, the membership has taken on a considerably different nature, moving from the origins to the clearly more financially aware.
The credit union sector in the UK is still in relative infancy, compared with countries such as USA, Canada, Australia and, even, Poland and Ireland. Indeed, British credit unions which attended the first world congress to be held in the UK ( in Glasgow last summer) were eligible for a 10% discount on registration because of their " developing status".
The UK sector has grown considerably since the 1960s, when immigrants from the West Indies brought the tradition and concept of credit unions with them. There are now over 864,000 credit union members in the UK( plus 120,000 juniors), with savings of £730 million and loans of over £595 million.
The part of the sector that has grown most strongly is that originally or still linked to an employer, mainly with payroll deduction facilities.
Many are or were directly linked to local authority employees and the largest UK credit union is currently Glasgow Credit Union, which now serves anyone who lives or works in the city.
If the membership of the three major credit unions which serve the police family in England, Wales and Scotland were combined, it would be the single largest membership in the UK, being over 53,000 persons- all associated with the police family. Quite why the police across the UK have so embraced the concept and values of credit unions is not easily identified, although they did start as individual force credit unions developed by Federation staff and serving very well defined and local needs.
As credit unions have grown, the important factor has been retention of their mutual, not for profit status and their adherence to the four principles of the worldwide sector, namely 1) the encouragement of saving, 2) the provision of products and rates for sensible borrowing, 3) the mutual use of funds ( savers' monies are lent to borrowers who in turn provide, through interest, the means to reward savers with a dividend) and, finally, 4) the education about how to handle finances prudently.
However large a credit union becomes, it remains a credit union in spirit as well as name, as long as it remains true to the above ethos.
Police Credit Union has grown to serve 25 forces and now has 20,300 members, with £45 million assets. It has achieved this, whilst keeping the faith with the principles of the sector. It has not only developed its products and returns to its members but it also plays a part in the national trade association by trying to assist other smaller credit unions outside the police family to learn from it and become more sustainable for the future.
In the foreseeable future, credit unions will be to the UK population what building societies were back in the 1960s and 1970s.
Police Credit Union intends to be part of that future, providing an ever increasing product range and services to a growing police membership. You can be part of that future.
For more information about Police Credit Union, please visit www.policecu.co.uk or contact your regional PCU office - details in contact section of website.