Editorial: Credit unions must be allowed to fulfil vital role
Published 28/01/2014 | 02:30
The credit union movement was set up to provide small loans to members of the community for things like paying school and college fees, buying a new kitchen or even covering the cost of a family funeral. It is regrettable, therefore, that the Central Bank has ordered 200 (out of a total of 392) to limit lending, a restriction that credit unions believe may benefit the banks or drive some of its customers into the unsavoury arms of moneylenders.
The credit union regulator in the Central Bank, Sharon Donnery, is rightly worried that arrears represent more than 30pc of the entire loan book in 47 credit unions, and that 20pc of the loan book of the credit union movement is in arrears.
There is no doubt that some credit unions did get caught up in the 'boom', lending to developers or allowing members to over-extend themselves with holiday homes and other luxuries they may now not be able to afford.
But these were a minority. It is vitally important for the ethos of the credit union movement that it is able to continue its work, providing much-needed 'bridging finance' to families and individuals when they need it.
Credit unions do not have the same lending criteria as banks. In most cases they know their members, they know their strengths and weaknesses and they know that in most instances their members will strive to pay off their loans, notwithstanding temporary difficulties that might see them in arrears.
Ms Donnery is worried about the "climate of increased risk" in relation to credit decisions.
She has gone on record as saying: "Restrictions are, in most cases, intended to be short term in nature and kept in place until the credit union has addressed the issues giving rise to the concern."
Obviously it is difficult to quibble with this assessment, especially as a portion of the blame for the banking collapse has been laid firmly at the door of the Financial Regulator of the time.
Nevertheless, it is important that she take into account the views of Kieron Brennan of the Irish League of Credit Unions, the representative body for most of them, that he was not aware of "inflexible restrictions" being imposed on banks and other lending institutions.
The credit unions are the best judges of their members and they should be given as much flexibility as possible to conduct their business with diligence and humanity.