Poverty, Credit Unions and Community Banking

Today is Blog Action Day about poverty. As a member of several cooperatives, I have a pretty strong hope that the responsible lending of credit unions can help people escape from poverty. The basic process of a credit union is that you save for a while, then when you’ve shown that you will put aside that amount of money regularly, you can borrow some multiple of it and repay at the same rate you were saving. In addition, you get a voice in controlling the credit union itself, although it is limited by financial services regulations and so on.

At yesterday’s meeting of the Cooperatives-SW board in Taunton, some members expressed concern about a “social enterprise” called South-West Pound backed by a company called South West Community Banking Partnership. Although it’s called that, apparently it’s not a bank and also not a credit union: its members don’t manage it. It’s working with credit unions, but I’m very unclear on how it’s regulated. From the few details on their website, it looks to me like it could even be running a Farepak-style scheme which happens to hold deposits in credit unions instead of banks. Why is concealing member-controlled unions allowable as a “social enterprise”? Why would anyone go to a “community banking partnership” instead of direct to a credit union? (Coo, I’m getting a bit angry again, both at the lack of information and the hide-them-to-promote-them idea.)

Tomorrow (Thu 16 Oct) is International Credit Union Day. If you’ve not already done so, please go open an account and help your local community to fund itself, then see if you can get involved in publicising them to communities who suffer financial exclusion.

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