A radical shake-up of how credit unions operate is being planned in a bid to turn the movement into a third banking force.
The proposal is to pool the assets of the movement, which amount to €13bn, and create a central organisation that would act collectively.
This would allow them to take on the banks, but retain their local connections. It may finally clear the way for credit unions to offer mortgages.
Leading management guru Eddie Molloy has come up with proposals to radically reform how credit union operate.
Dr Molloy, who has advised the likes of Intel, Guinness, Rehab and Ibec, is proposing that credit unions form a federated system, with a strong central structure. This is similar to the model successfully operated in Canada.
This would allow them to maximise their strengths, develop new products, and benefit from greater scale and savings from the economies of operating collectively.
According to the regulator for the sector, there are 335 active credit unions in this country.
But because each one is owned by its members in the community, or workforce where it operates, they are run separately. This means they are unable to harness the collective strength of the movement.
There are, for example, a number of different IT and payments systems used across different credit unions.
The aim of the new proposals is to see credit unions develop like former humble farmer co-operatives Kerry and Glanbia, which have been transformed into multinational businesses.
Dr Molloy was engaged by the Irish League of Credit Unions to come up with a transformation plan, but the aim is to involve credit unions that are members of the rival CUDA body, the Credit Union Development Association.
Almost three million people are members of credit unions, with credit unions the brand that Irish customers have the best experience with, according to recent research.
They have combined savings of €13.4bn, with combined assets of €14.8bn.
Dr Molloy said: "It is a sleeping giant. The strength and weakness of credit unions is that they are locally owned and operated. But being local means they are less alert to the potential of the national aspect."
The aim is to have someone who is a member of a credit union in Kerry be able to use the services of one in Donegal.
"Credit unions all operate as islands. The idea is to move from an atomised movement to one integrated at the centre, a sort of federal arrangement."
The proposals are to be put to a vote in April at the annual general meeting of the league.
He said there is strong support from credit unions spoken to at a number of seminars.
The league's rules of affiliation will have to change, with huge emphasis on strong management and operational skills being put in place in the new central organisation.
Dr Molloy has recommended a two-year timeframe to implement the changes. He said regulator Ann Marie McKiernan was anxious to see a new business model for the movement.