Members matter to Credit Unions working Worldwide

Wednesday, 10 October, 2012

On 18 October 2012, there were celebrations around the world for International Credit Union Day, coinciding with the International Year of the Co-operatives.

Whereas they only have a relatively modest profile in the UK after their arrival in the mid 60s, credit unions around the world continually demonstrate strongly their ability to improve the lives of individuals, families, communities and countries and have done so for generations.

With more than 196 million people worldwide in 100 countries with credit union membership, the success of the global movement is there for everyone to see and the continuing development of credit unions in the UK sees us creating the foundations to follow in the footsteps of the key leaders in USA, Canada, Australia, Poland and Ireland in becoming major financial services providers to their wider populations.
Credit unions operating in Britain today are extremely varied in size, membership and the range of services they offer but they all share a basic philosophy and set of principles with the worldwide credit union movement.

The ideas and values central to how credit unions work were developed in the 19th century. In Britain they were the work of pioneers such as Robert Owen. In Germany there were innovators like Herman Schulze-Delitzsch and in North America Alphonse Desjardin was mapping his vision of co-operative credit.

The credit union movement grew quickly throughout America and Canada and soon began to have an influence on the rest of the world.

Credit unions in Jamaica began during the 1940s. Father John P Sullivan, a Jesuit priest, believed credit unions could help working people cope better with wartime conditions.

In Ireland the first credit union was founded in 1958, thanks to schoolteacher Nora Herlihy and colleagues in the Dublin Central Co-operative Society, which she helped to found. The first Irish credit union developed through contact with the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) in America.

In Ireland, over 70% of the population belongs to a credit union. In America and Canada the figure is around 43%. Credit unions are also growing fast in Eastern Europe, parts of South America, Africa and the Far East.

Credit unions took some time to take off in England, Scotland and Wales. People who had seen the idea work in Ireland, the Caribbean, Canada and the US were amongst the first British credit union pioneers.

Before 1979, there was no legal structure for credit unions in the UK. Some of the early credit unions chose to register under the Companies Act and some under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act.

Many of the credit union pioneers played a key role in getting a legal structure for credit unions on the statute book. Eventually, in April 1979, the Credit Unions Act was the last Act to be passed by the outgoing Labour Government.
It took another 33 years before the next legislation in the form of this year's Legislative Reform Order which gave more opportunities to UK credit unions to develop with new expanded powers.

This has stimulated the present government to continue the initiative of the previous one to give support to building the strength of credit unions so that they provide their mutual, not for profit financial services to an ever growing proportion of the population. By the end of this year, the DWP will be considering a range of bids by consortia of credit unions for funds to assist this development.

Police Credit Union itself does not seek this financial support (and would not individually qualify due to its own success to date) but it is committed to work with the smaller unions to help build the sector in the UK.

Whilst this general development of the sector continues, Police Credit Union goes from strength to strength with membership growth, dividends to savers way ahead of High Street interest rates and sensible, caring lending at highly attractive interest rates to borrowers.

Demonstration of its strong community ethos is clear with its support of a range of police related activities and projects as well as helping its chosen charity (for children with disabilities) with management expertise and campaign support - all wih very modest financial input.

So, Police Credit Union is working well to meet the values quoted above by the UN Secretary - a combination of economic viability and social responsibility.

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