Sunday 24 June 2018

Cherished lenders need to change if they are not to go way of the curlew

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

Credit unions are cherished, have a loyal customer base and regularly top the list of the top brands when it comes to customer experience.

But despite those advantages the sector faces huge challenges, which its senior members seem incapable of overcoming.

Being amateur-type organisations, often staffed with local volunteers, is all very well. But the local lenders need to change fast, by becoming more professional, if they are not to be left behind.

The controversy around prize draws is a case in point. Now closed Rush Credit Union was unable to locate the winners of 15 car draws, even though more than €220,000 was spent on the vehicles.

The credit union of Dublin Bus employees is the latest to have a problem with its prize draw. It has had to refund money to those who entered into it, and has suffered a €218,000 loss on the draw. We don't know exactly what happened, but it is likely the draws were not run fairly.

The Rush car draw mess prompted the Central Bank to probe the operation of draws across the sector.

It found that staff and directors won prizes in 30pc of the credit unions that operated member draws.

The smart thing would be for all credit unions to ban staff and directors from entering these draws, to remove any suspicion of untoward activity.

Some have, but others have resisted this.

Fraud is a problem at just a small number of credit unions, but it grabs the headlines.

There are 268 registered credit unions, serving 3.1 million members.

The level of savings has remained resilient through the financial crisis. There is now €14bn stuffed into accounts, some €2bn more a decade ago when the economic downturn hit.

But just €4.5bn of the savings has been loaned out. Recent research claimed large numbers of credit unions will close unless they urgently change how they do business.

Credit unions say they are fully aware of the need to expand and diversify.

However, they risk going the way of the curlew - becoming a rarity in this country - unless they change fast.

Irish Independent

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