Wednesday 28 September 2016

Credit unions should evolve to secure future

Published 03/06/2016 | 02:30

The argument for the creation of 'super credit unions' has been made for some time, with the Department of Finance and the Central Bank being among its leading advocates (Stock picture)
The argument for the creation of 'super credit unions' has been made for some time, with the Department of Finance and the Central Bank being among its leading advocates (Stock picture)

It has been said that watching mergers in business is a little like observing dinosaurs mating.

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But the very reason businesses do so is to avoid the fate of the now extinct giant reptiles.

In managing change, you must be prepared to leave something behind in order to go forward. This is the juncture at which many Irish credit unions now find themselves, and the very success of the organisations has made it inevitable that sooner or later some hard choices would have to be made.

The argument for the creation of 'super credit unions' has been made for some time, with the Department of Finance and the Central Bank being among its leading advocates.

Understandably, smaller credit unions are hesitant about yielding their independence. They do not wish to bow to the inevitability of professional managers and the potential loss of the personal touch in scaling up.

The truth is that no lending institution, from the highest to the humblest, could be shielded from the shockwaves of the financial crash. The priorities must now be security, and insulating, as far as possible, against risk.

Thus there is a new maze of laws and restrictions that must be negotiated. Credit unions are not immune; if mergers are required to protect the interests of members and help secure their future, then so be it. They cannot afford to turn their backs on modernity and all its guises, which comes with electronic payments and debit cards.

The banks are breathing down their necks in the race for business. The era of the local credit union may be short-lived - there were 383 last year, there is expected to be only 280 by the end of this year. It is always necessary to turn a page to begin a new chapter. For credit unions that may mean letting go of the past, in order to embrace the future.

Harris must seek better deal on drugs for patients

The enthusiasm new Health Minister Simon Harris brings to his task is infectious, but he will be judged not by what he hopes to do but by what he actually does. Much of what he says is sensible and achievable, if given the resources and the cooperation required to complete the radical overhaul envisaged. That is, of course, a big if.

Many of his predecessors found to their cost that there was no room for “thinking big” within the limitations of the department. Yesterday, Mr Harris said he would discuss with his European colleagues the prospect of jointly purchasing new drugs to cut costs. His comments were on the back of the furore over news that the cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi had been judged uneconomic by the National Centre for Pharmaeconomics (NCPE), the body which examines the economic case for new drugs.

At an estimated €158,000 a year per patient, the cost seems prohibitive, but Mr Harris believes there is room for negotiation. He said: “This process is not over. It will continue as a priority.” Professor Michael Barry, head of the NCPE, said he too was hopeful there would be a successful outcome from talks with the drug maker, Vertex.

As Mr Berry said: “We don’t put a price on life, but we believe the manufacturers got the price wrong here.” If there is any room for manoeuvre, surely it must be taken.

As Mr Harris acknowledged, with a new generation of hugely expensive cancer drugs shortly to become available, the problem presented by Orkambi is likely to reoccur. The stakes are high, but one can think of no better start for Mr Harris than securing a better deal for patients.

Irish Independent

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