Opening Address by ILCU CEO at Joint Finance Committee

Posted on: 23 Oct 2018

Opening Address by Ed Farrell, CEO, ILCU to the meeting of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach.

Thank you for your invitation today.  On behalf of over 250 credit unions operating in over 500 communities may I say at the outset, that we are an indigenous, local, democratically led, volunteer based, co-operative financial movement.  Credit unions, the credit union ethos, the fact not just of accessibility in the community but of being locally led, is the already embedded corner stone of what our country needs and of what people want locally.
This meeting today is further to publication of the Government’s report on Local Public Banking in Ireland.  From a credit union perspective it also takes place in the context of this Committee’s own unanimously agreed Report on the Review of the Credit Union sector last November.
We are also meeting in a specific political context.  The confidence and supply agreement has concluded.  The CUAC Review process is concluding and credit unions are looking now for a move-on from aspiration to action.  The commitment to “develop a strategy for the growth and development of the credit union sector” is long in gestation, and if fulfilled is the local public banking service that communities need.  The challenge now, and it is essentially a political one, is whether kind words of reassurance are going to translate into political prioritisation.  The challenge credit unions face is the challenge for the development of more localised banking and financial services, that we are ambitious to lead, is not any lack of good will.  It is the much scarcer commodity of determined prioritisation.
In your own report Mr Chairman, this Committee recognised that the ‘Common Bond’ structure inherent in the credit union movement is essential in underpinning the community and democratic base of credit unions.  The common bond is the essential fabric of what binds community and credit unions together.  Its continuance is correctly supported by the Committee, and is clearly the obvious foundation stone for enhanced financial services delivered at local level.
In a world of globalisation and homogenisation there is consolidation among credit unions.  There is also a continued enhanced level of service provided by credit unions in over five hundred separate communities.  Because we are membership based, and cooperative we have values that banks do not.  Because of our common bond, we are a real community of members saving together, and lending to one another.  A mark of our values is that, for the fourth year in a row, Irish credit unions have come first place in the annual Customer Experience (CX) awards which were announced on the 16th October.  Customer experience is measured by how customers perceive an organisation’s brand through their interactions with its employees.  The fact that the credit unions are the only organisation in the world to win this accolade in four consecutive years speaks for itself. 
The next step, to deliver financial services locally through credit unions is to deliver now as the CUAC review process concludes on the commitment to “develop a strategy for the growth and development of the credit union sector”.  The welcome report on Public Banking is a backdrop to inform that development as is the excellent report of this Committee.  A strategy of itself, however, will not be sufficient.  Any strategy worthy of the name must be accompanied by an implementation plan.  Implementation to be effective must marry policy driven by the Department of Finance with regulation which is the responsibility of the Central Bank.  Any initiative which falls into the void between the two – a void where credit unions have already spent too long – is pointless.  Political prioritisation must be accompanied by effective means to translate aspiration into action.  This has to be the critical move-on required to progress this issue. 
And credit unions have been moving on.  For example, among other things, credit unions are now processing electronic payments and issuing mortgages.  These are significant and welcome developments, but the scale of what we can do is severely restricted by regulation.  Our aim is to deliver current accounts and debit cards, and support our members with the full range of services they need, on a day to day basis.  We are ambitious to deliver lending for SMEs and family farms, and we are ready to invest in social housing as asked by Government.
Mr Chairman, local public banking is an idea whose time has come.  I can tell you today that the foundations are in place, and those foundations are credit unions.