I was lucky enough to be asked to speak at the World Credit Union Conference, which took place last month in Glasgow. I spoke about Vancity’s five year history with social media, and some of what we’ve learned and achieved. It was an amazing experience, full of people from around the world who believe that access to fair credit is an economic imperative and a vital community service. I met with people from around the world whose credit unions are the only option for people in their communities to get access to a safe place to put their money and an ethical and reliable place to access some amount of credit to get ahead.
One of the best experiences I had while there was visiting a local credit union. For me, it was a real eye opener.
We visited the Drumchapel Credit Union, located in the North section of the city, and one of the oldest credit unions in Scotland. We met with their staff – some of whom are volunteers – and some members of their Board.
From their website:
In many areas Credit Unions give their members access to credit, that they would not be able to obtain from most other financial institutions or would have to pay a high price for.
Coming from British Columbia, I made an assumption that any credit union operating in a modern, wealthy country like Canada or Scotland would be pretty similar. I assumed that they had a membership that needed reasonably sophisticated services like online banking and mortgages – things I associate with the credit unions I know. But this credit union services an impoverished community, with high unemployment, facing issues of social inclusion and integration. Their members simply wouldn’t get service from a bank or other financial institutions. They are the unbanked. If it wasn’t for Drumchapel Credit Union, some of their members would resort to the underground economy, which would put their money, and perhaps personal well-being, in jeopardy.
Some of their staff are volunteers partly because unemployment is so high, and partly because their small credit union performs a vital community service and people in the community feel obligated to support it how they can.
The group of us visiting the credit union were mostly from Canada, Australia, Ireland and the US – all reasonably wealthy and modern organizations – and we were all moved by the spirit of the staff, the commitment of the Board members, the necessity to the local community and the graciousness and hospitality of everyone we met. I think we were all touched, and reminded of the roots of our own organizations, many of which began for similar reasons to provide critical community banking services to their communities.
It was the most memorable part of an amazing trip. Anyone reading who cares about credit unions and the vital community service a financial co-operative should be performing should think about attending a World Council of Credit Unions conference. For me, it was an experience I’m honored to have had, and consider to be a highlight of my career.