This is a welcome step for our community lenders
THE credit union sector is about to experience a revolution.
This time next year, there could be far fewer of the member-owned lenders.
But there should be no panic about this.
It is a good thing, because the old credit union model is under severe strain.
It needs to reinvent itself and change to reflect a modern Ireland.
Having close to 400 credit unions which are all owned and run individually makes little sense in the current strained economic environment.
And the fact they are all one-trick ponies – with the provision of loans their main source of income –means that something has to give.
Nor is the movement immune to the strains on household finance.
The sector has €816.1m in loan arrears, Finance Minister Michael Noonan told the Dail recently.
This amounts to around one-in-five of the loans across the sector not being repaid under agreements originally entered into.
Mr Noonan confirmed in the Dail that the Central Bank has 100 credit unions on a watch list, as it is concerned about arrears, bad debts and lending practices.
Some 20 of these do not even have the minimum in reserve funds required by the regulators.
However bad these are, there is no expectation of another late-night trip to the High Court for regulators as there was when Newbridge Credit Union was wound up and shoved into Permanent TSB.
No other credit union is as bad as that one.
But still there are strains. The solution being promoted by the Government to strengthen the sector is mass mergers.
This will not mean your credit union office will close, or that you will lose your vote.
It means that if two credit unions come together, there will be one board instead of two, one IT system etc.
The combined unit will be much stronger and able to take on the banks with a current account offerings, ATMs and electronic payments systems.
With 2.8 million members, the prospect of credit unions scaling up and offering proper financial services is something that will worry bankers.