Talking Credit Unions with Chris Smith

Listen to all the Podcast HERE

28th Interview The economic challenges of 2020 and 2021 years have amplified the essential role credit unions can play in the lives of their members and communities. This environment presents the opportunity for credit unions to re-think not only their operating norms but also how to position the organisation to make an even greater impact on employees, members, and communities.

The 27th Interview Save and Sound was originally funded to collect 40 oral history interviews across the north of England, but now the project expands across Britain.  The project has already recruited volunteers that have been trained as oral history interviewers or to assist in the development of a new website. Chris talks to those who are in the know and taken part.

The 26th Interview Credit unions are seeing increased levels of gambling activity on members accounts, especially since the pandemic. Many credit unions can conduct more forensic assessment of members accounts following the uptake in use of ‘open banking’. This has contributed to a rising concern that gambling is causing harm to members and their families. Should the credit unions intervene, or should they mind their own business? Listen to the excellent points of view from industry leaders on this podcast.

The 25th Interview do credit unions alleviate poverty? One of the perceptions about credit unions is that they ‘alleviate poverty’ and I guess many within the Irish & UK credit union movement will accept that perception. I suspect that banks are not perceived as alleviating poverty, by the general public or even bank workers. 

The 23rd Interview In this edition Chris talks with the enthusiastic Karen Bennett, CEO of the Merseyside based Enterprise  Credit Union, about its fairly recent take up member mobile ‘app’ CUApps

The 22nd Interview NHS Credit Union state that the NIVO app doubled their member ‘onboarding’ and enabled loan applications to soar to 87% of loans being processed within one day. An impressive list of users have taken up the app; Enterprise, First Class, Scottish Police, and many more credit unions. Listen to the founder, and CEO of NIVO, Michael Common . 

The 21st Interview Credit Union Development Educator is a unique form of credit union education that has seen  over 4,500 credit union employees, volunteers, directors and supporters attending over the years. The EU version has been running several years, with events usually based in the UK. The US version, of the DE event, has been around for almost 40 years.

The 20th Interview is with Sir Douglas Flint who is chair of Standard Life Aberdeen, IP Group, the Corporate board of Cancer Research UK and is a trustee of the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. He was previously Group Chairman of HSBC Holdings and he has held other roles, notably as a non-executive director of BP. His Chairmanship of the Just Finance Foundation has placed him in close proximity to credit unions. So, along with his insights into successful board rooms,

The 19th Interview CFCFE CONFERENCE This conference will consider the external operating context, the importance of building a business model on a clear and agreed purpose, and explore credit union leader experience of making mergers work. 2020 saw a significant acceleration of the digitalisation of our societies and economies. Post-vaccines, most agree there will not be a great reversion to a 2019 way of life. Credit union leaders, both executives and directors, need to consider whether their business model is right for this environment. Some credit unions have seen merger as a strategic response to strengthen their organisations, but this is not an easy process to get right.

The eighteenth Interview After making the interesting swop from being a policy and regulation specialist, at the trade body ABCUL back in 2020, Matt Bland embarked on turning the sleeping giant of the Co-op Credit Union (CCU) into a more nimble and ambitious outfit. Matt was selected for the job from an impressive batch of applicants but no matter how much the CCU directors tested his ability at the interviews, no one could plan for the test of the pandemic! Matt gives a fascinating insight into being a CEO, for the first time, and how to cope with a pandemic.

The Seventeeth interview I was really interested in the news that ABCUL are to launch a Strategic Merger Taskforce. Robert Kelly, CEO at ABCUL, once again appears to tackle subjects that appear sometimes to be difficult to deal with but nevertheless are really of the moment. Credit Union mergers, or transfer of engagements, in the past have typically been a way of saving a struggling credit union from failure, by being absorbed into a healthier partner. However, could two, or more, credit unions join; and become strategically stronger by merging from a position of strength of their combined healthy businesses? 

The Sixteenth Interview Over the last few years, the importance of flexible, efficient and modern technology has risen up the agenda for many credit unions. 2020 has made this even more pronounced, as the ability of organisation to serve members effectively while staff are remote from members (and each other) has been given a severe test. Sometimes credit unions come to the conclusion that their strategy cannot be delivered with the constraints of their current core processing and accounting system. But replacing this component of the business is daunting and can be compared to major surgery – expensive, painful and risky. Yet still critical to survival – so what to do?

The Fifteenth Interview First came shock; and then came shows of support. But they’re only worth a penny if we do not move to meaningful action and concrete change. Change you can see. Change you can measure. And change that makes a material difference to people’s lives. To achieve that, we can’t just speak about one aspect of diversity and inclusion without also understanding the importance of all others, and how they intersect to make up someone’s experiences. But following the killing of George Floyd, much of the push for action in recent months has quite rightly been focused on addressing systematic racial and ethnic inequality.

The Fourteenth Interview CFCFE have released a report from Dr Olive McCarthy of the Centre for Co-operative Studies at Cork University Business School (and CFCFE’s Advisory Board) on credit union perceptions of the opportunities and challenges for measuring and reporting on social impact – what CFCFE calls ‘the credit union difference’.

THE Thirteenth Interview Olive McCarthy is an active member of St. Michael’s Credit Union, Cork, Ireland. She receives research funding from a wide array of external sources, including government bodies, NGOs and sectoral organisations. She is a member of the Credit Union Advisory Committee, appointed by the Irish Minister for Finance.

The Twelfth Interview:- International credit union projects are not always what I expected and perhaps they are occasionally fruitful in ways I did not foresee. The benefits are occasionally inspiring and profound. The drawbacks can often be that the ideas and observations are not always transferable and the logistics can sometime be daunting. However, these guests, on this podcast, unanimously say there is a rich seam of knowledge and wisdom waiting to be found, in these international projects, if we are minded to look.

The Eleventh Interview:- A brief round-up on CFCFE, ABCUL and World Council of Credit Unions conferences.

The Tenth Interview:- Credit Union Conference: Planning for the New Normal 10.00am-3.30pm, Tuesday 22 September 2020, Clayton Liffey Valley Hotel and live online. Who should attend? Credit union leaders, policy-makers and stakeholders in Great Britain and Ireland

The morning session will help credit unions look ahead, by providing insights into the consumer and economic landscape and talking to CEOs about their assessment of the future. In the afternoon, we will focus on practical ideas for safely sustaining lending to members and managing the operation.
The afternoon session ask the question how are credit union loan books actually performing? How can we help members who are not currently meeting our credit requirements qualify for loans they can afford?  The practical steps to make this product work for members who value its convenience — and credit unions who value its cost-efficiency . Lending post-COVID-19: will be a panel session.

The presentations and other materials can be viewed at

The Ninth Interview this edition asks how prepared are our credit unions for the possible employment issues that the pandemic has forced onto their businesses? Some of the changes may be positive and some may be relatively painless. However, changing a workforce to suit the new circumstances, or restructuring as it is called, is always a challenge and there are clearly good ways to do it and pitfalls to avoid. 

The Eighth Interview This edition is about member recruitment via payroll deduction. How British and Irish credit unions, and others, have managed their journey into member recruitment via the route of employer participation. I have some excellent guests on the podcast and my gratitude goes out to them for giving up their valuable time freely in the middle of this pandemic. 

Billy Doyle CEO Dundalk CU in Ireland, Luke Mellard, Business Development Manager at the company Salary Finance, Carol McHarg CEO 1st Alliance CU in Ayrshire Scotland, Ann Hickey CEO East Sussex CU in England, Roger Shelton Business Development Manager in Sheffield, England. 

The Seventh Interview This podcast, and the CFCFE paper, does not provide a  comprehensive or detailed documentation of Ireland’s credit unions, but merely a snapshot. The credit union movement can be proud of the demonstration of its values described here. Thanks to Nick Money (Director CFCFE), David McAuley (CEO Donore Credit Union, Dublin) and Michael Byrne (CEO Core Credit Union, Dublin) for their enthusiastic contribution to this podcast.
June 2020

The Sixth Interview The COVID-19 health crisis, with its associated social lock down and economic shocks, has presented operational and commercial challenges to credit unions that go way beyond previous experience. Credit union members are having to cope with social distancing and sometimes isolation, as well as potentially reduced income or unemployment. In this podcast we hear some of the testimony of those credit unions and the challenges  met by British credit unions ‘People Helping People’.

The Fifth Interview with Matt Bland the new CEO of The Co-op Credit Union based in Manchester UK, “Credit unions are all about solidarity with our colleagues and neighbours in financial matters. This interview gives a good insight into the practical world of ‘new’ credit unions, Fin Tech, regulation and access to new members featured here.

This Fourth interview took place immediately after Manchester CFCFE Conference in Manchester. At that conference Todd had outlined his extensive experience of IT solutions in the credit union sector in the USA, and his recent engagement with Irish credit unions. 

The Third Interview with Robert Kelly CEO, of the trade association ABCUL (Association of British Credit Unions Ltd), talks about is first months in the role and the forthcoming national conference in Manchester (March 2020).

The Second Interview at the CFCFE’s conference in Manchester (17th January) and Drew Povey spoke about leadership in a time of change, and how to show courage; Rob McIntosh explained his vision of digital community, how it can be realised and how it is relevant – critical – to credit unions; Marloes Nicholls summarised the risks and significant opportunities for credit unions from the effective use of open banking; Todd Proulx considered why, when and how to change core IT systems

The First Interview with Abbie Shelton about a Oral History project about the Uk Credit Union movement. Starting with a possible pilot in the north of the country leading to a national roll-out if the project receives the funding.

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