European Credit Unions

Credit unions trace their roots to the humble beginning in 19th century Europe. Franz Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch established the first credit unions in the 1850s in Germany to give those lacking access to financial services the opportunity to borrow from the savings pooled by themselves and their fellow members. Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen transported the financial cooperative concept to rural Germany a decade later.

Today in 2016, credit unions operate in a number of European countries including in the Republic of Ireland, Estonia, Romania, Poland, the United Kingdom and Macedonia. Credit unions make an important contribution to the European social economy by supporting thousands of communities and more than 7 million European households with affordable financial services.


Credit unions have a long history in Romania – there are about 2,000 credit unions at the moment, many of which are members of UNCAR, their largest trade association.

Credit unions started in Romania in the late 19th century, and grew strongly during the period between the two world wars.  During the communist period, credit unions were in fact encouraged and in many industrial sectors credit union membership was mandatory.  Since the fall of communism, credit unions are having to compete in a more complex financial market place and hence their interest in learning from other countries.  Credit union legislation and regulation differs between UK and Romania – an issue that will be looked at on the visit.  There are about 1 million members of UNCAR credit unions – plus another 1.5 million members of pensioner credit unions but these operate under a different law.

Romanian Credit Unions visit the Northwest 2015

The visit of our Romanian credit union friends to Liverpool, Manchester and Lancashire in June and in November of 2015 turned out to be a fantastic and overwhelming experience of international co-operation, collaboration and friendship.

Thanks must go to everyone who took part and who welcomed the visitors so warmly.  There were so many people involved in the 14 credit unions that took part, in the local authorities that welcomed the visitors and in the school in Liverpool that put on such a tremendous reception and the speakers at the events.  We certainly demonstrated the extent and the depth of a real credit union welcome. The Romanians were overwhelmed with the kindness and warmth of the welcome and they really do want our credit union people to visit them in Romania in return.  Let’s hope that that might be possible

April 2016 Northwest Trip to Romania

The exchange visit Organized by the National Association of Credit Unions of Employees in Romania under the motto “Improving Lives through credit unions” was held in Romania from 11 to 17 April 2016.

Participants: credit unions from North West of England and credit unions from counties Arges, Brasov, Bucharest, Dolj, Hunedoara, Mures, Prahova, Valcea as well as territorial credit unions.

It was a real example of regional and international credit union collaboration and friendship and was just what being in the credit union movement is all about.  We learnt so much from one another and from our Romanian friends and colleagues.  The association and collaboration with Romania may it continue into the future.  It is a lovely country, with great people and with a co-operative finance sector committed to the same values and principles as in the United Kingdom.  Hopefully more can be achieved on governance and on a worker exchange programme. Participants came home feeling very privileged, inspired and proud to have taken part in such an amazing trip.  

Romania 2018 Visit

A great welcome to the North West. on Sunday was facilitated by Paul Jones of Liverpool John Moore’s University and Martin Logan of Voyager Alliance Credit Union.
Once again in June.2018, a group of Romanian credit union people came to Liverpool for a week of training and knowledge exchange. The week began on Monday June 11th at the John Moors university and ended with an invitation to the group to participate in the Northwest Forum social event on Saturday 16th June. Tremendous support and involvement was given by credit unions around Liverpool and Manchester.  Andy Davey from the Co-operative Credit Union giving a talk on financial education Marie from Lodge Lane Credit Union and Rob and Geoff from Central Liverpool Credit Union gave gave presentations on their respective credit union. Christine Moore, executive director of Manchester Credit Union gave a talk on being a director of a credit union. Caroline and Lisa, executive directors of No1 Copperpot Credit Union gave their excellent presentation on the management of risk. Dan Arrowsmith, policy officer at Association of British Credit Unions Ltd., gave a talk on credit union legislation and regulation to the Romanian CAR officials. 

The EU-funded project was in partnership with Romanian credit unions and Italian co-operators. The project aimed to develop governance training materials for British and Romanian credit unions, and financial education training materials – particularly for low income individuals. There was a small group of co-operative educators from Italy who participated on the Friday sessions.


The credit union sector in Poland started from next to nothing in 1992, but today goes from strength to strength. From the start there were 14,000 Polish credit union members; in 2009 there were over 2 million, with an increase of 170,000 members in 2009 alone.

Polish credit unions had assets of over 12 billion zlotys (£2.47 billion)  In 2009, the amount of loans increased by nearly 1.4 billion zlotys (£290 million) to reach almost 8.5 billion zlotys (£1.75 billion)  At the end of 2009 credit union savings were 10.8 billion zlotys (£2.22 billion), an increase of approximately 26% compared to the previous year Credit unions have 776 ATMs in Poland – one of the largest  networks of ATMs in Poland  Over 130,000 members use credit union internet banking services More than 350,000 members -one in six – have a credit union card account. At the 2010 The World Council of Credit Unions Conference, Lech Kaczyhski, the recently deceased President of Poland, who was central in helping establish the country’s credit union movement, was named as a recipient of the World Council of Credit Unions’ Distinguished Service Award (DSA), the global trade association’s highest honour.

Serving Polish communities around the world

Credit unions have been successfully established to serve Polish immigrant communities around the world, particularly in the United States. There are at least seven credit unions in the United States serving the American-Polish community. This includes the Polish and Slavic Federal Credit Union which is based in Brooklyn, New York, but also has branches in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Illinois. Established in 1976, PS ECU now has almost 70,000 members, $1.3 billion in assets and ranks among the largest 100 credit unions in the US. Credit unions focusing on the needs of Polish immigrants elsewhere in the world include the St Stanislaus – St Casimir’s Polish Parishes Credit Union, in Toronto, Canada, which is one of the largest parish-based credit unions in the world, and the Polish Community Credit Union in Adelaide, South Australia.

Representatives from SKOK – the National Association of Co-operative Savings and Credit Unions visited London in May 2010 to find out more about the role of credit unions in eliminating financial exclusion and how credit unions and local and central government work together to benefit communities.

A number of credit unions hosted the Polish visitors – London Mutual Credit Union, Lewisham Plus Credit Union, Tower Hamlets Credit Union, Waltham Forest Community Credit Union and Islington and City Credit Union. To get to each of the credit unions, six black cabs driven by taxi driver members of credit unions were arranged. During the visit, Paul Jones of Liverpool John Moore’s University and Mark Lyonette set out the landscape for credit unions in Britain.

The visitors went to Barclays in Canary Wharf to hear how the Government has encouraged banks to engage with financial exclusion and to support credit unions. This was followed by a presentation by representatives of the FSA, who explained their work on financial capability.

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