I’m just back from a wonderful few days and the Association of British Credit Unions Annual Conference in Manchester.
There were hundreds of delegates representing hundreds of Credit Unions up and down the country – from volunteers who give up their time to make sure the smallest of our Credit Unions continue to provide a service in their local community, to the managers and directors of the biggest unions, which are now multi-million pound businesses but they have never forgotten that they are still owned and run by their members.
It was a truly uplifting experience. There was a real buzz in the Midland Hotel all weeke
nd, even for the early birds who got up to listen to Mike Mercer from the Georgia Credit Union in the USA who had come over to talk to the Conference about Credit Union organisation in the USA, which has one of the best developed sectors in the world, and how the UK unions represented at Conference could learn lessons from their experiences over the years.
I’ll write in more detail about the conference over the coming weeks – and perhaps share with you things like the wonderful game developed by the Lanarkshire Credit Union to help its members, and others, learn about money management. It was a kind of snakes and ladders for the money savvy and it will help to make looking after money a bit more fun – something that we all really need these days.
The conference looked at how Credit Unions can best get the message out there that anyone can join. Credit Unions are not just for people who don’t have much money or who have impaired credit histories. We can all save in a credit union, or use their borrowing facilities, often at better rates than we’re paying our high street banks at the moment. And we will know that the money we are investing is helping someone else borrow from the union, again at competitive rates and terms. It’s a strong message.
Credit Unions have a huge opportunity to fill the gaps that still exist in the range of simple, easy to understand financial products that are available in the UK, and the conference looked in detail at how that could be done in the next few years.
It’s clear to me that millions of us are still not convinced that the Banks have been truly reformed to act in the best interests of their customers. For many of them it still seems like business as usual – the business of making money for their highly paid directors and senior staff rather than the business of providing a good, reliable service to their customers – and it’s that lack of trust that the Credit Union sector can, and must, take advantage of.