Celebrating the Credit Unions – Local Service, Global Good

16 October 2014

United Kingdom

Ben Thorpe

Glory Global

Blog

Until I lived in Australia I had never come across a Credit Union, or Mutual as they are also often referred to, but I very soon came to understand just what an important part they played for many people across the country. Australia being such a massive country, providing first class, cost effective financial services was, and still is, no mean feat and is done so well.
Proud History
Credit unions grew up to provide a group of like-minded people in usually the same location access to financial resources where generally there was none or to use an oft cited phrase today, where they were under-banked.
Institutions go as far back as the early 1900s for credit co-operatives in Australia but even further in Europe and North America, so there was and is always a proud sense of history and of working with “the people” from dealings with Credit Unions.
Whilst these early credit cooperatives seem a long way from the sophistication of the Credit Unions I have worked with, their DNA is very similar. Their aim has been to provide local service and contribute to the good of the community. When the approximate 53,000 credit unions worldwide are added together, to use the words for this years’ International Credit Union Day, it makes for a lot of “Local Service. Global Good”
Community Focus
I learned very quickly that Credit Unions had “members” and not customers, that their focus was their members and their community. Providing services – be they community information walls, space for members to meet, coin deposit systems for free, financial literacy programmes or even just funding community projects from their profits - were explained to me as critical in the work they undertook.
In my experience, this sense of togetherness is also mirrored within the community of Credit Unions; anyone who has attended a credit union conference will surely have felt the sense of community that exists – not surprising since because of their distinct community focus, so often the credit unions are not in competition with each other.
Early adopters
Open plan, “transformed” branches were always popular with the credit unions I worked with because they brought the employees closer to their members and gave them time for real face to face, person to person interaction. In this regard, many credit unions were certainly pioneers, striking the balance between automating transactions for convenience sake and ensuring that members had someone to speak to and work with whenever necessary.
Sharing resources
I found that there was at the time a friendly rivalry between the banks and the Credit Unions with ideas seeming to regularly move between the different organisations.  What was seen by some as a weakness, their relatively small size, made for a great strength in many cases: Credit Unions had the benefit of being agile and flexible with frequently flatter structures that aided rapid decision making and at times technology adoption.
Whether in Australia or elsewhere, credit unions also manage well through pooling their resources (through organisations like CUNA in the USA and CUSCAL in Australia) to offer the same services as almost any other financial institution.
Thank you
So on International Union day, the financial community would be a less exciting place without the thousands of credit unions today around the world and to those with whom I have had the pleasure of working, I thank you for the opportunities we have had to work together. 
To read more about some of the work we have undertaken with leading Credit Unions, please click here.

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