I recently had the great pleasure of traveling to Dublin, Ireland to meet with representatives from the Irish League of Credit Unions. This trip was the first in what I hope will be a series of international jaunts to nations with a strong credit union presence. Ultimately, my research will lead to a comprehensive White Paper and e-Book to be published sometime in 2014. My hope is that by sharing best credit union practices from around the globe, all credit unions can learn from each other and the global movement will get even stronger – all, of course, for the ultimate beneficiaries – our valued members.
Why embark on such a quest? To be honest, it wasn’t necessarily something that I had anticipated doing until I had the opportunity to work with the World Council of Credit Unions earlier this year and met some extraordinary CU professionals from different parts of the world. I captured some of that experience in a blog post back in May.
Back to Dublin – I met with John Knox (Research & Development Dept.) and Kieran McDonnell (Communications) at the Irish League of Credit Unions. My goal was to learn as much as I could about the Irish credit union system – how it is similar to the system in the United States, how it differs, what is unique to Irish credit unions, and what the current challenges & opportunities are. While the aforementioned White Paper and e-Book will provide much more in terms of details, I wanted to share some of the highlights here on the blog. I’ll cover a focus area, give a brief comparison between Ireland and the U.S. and then suggest a BEST PRACTICE to encourage all of us to learn from each other.
So here goes….
Membership: I was shocked to learn that 75% of Ireland’s population belongs to a credit union. Go ahead, read that again. 75%!! Furthermore, knowledge about and awareness of credit unions in communities, villages, and cities throughout Ireland is at a higher level than in the United States (where, as we know too well, credit unions struggle to create awareness.) Indeed, when a couple of my ultra-friendly taxi drivers asked me why I was visiting Ireland, they knew what I was talking about when I said that I am a consultant for credit unions. And yes, the ones that knew about credit unions were also credit union members! BEST PRACTICE: While adapting to the ever-changing demands of the marketplace, never forget that the surest way to create loyalty and awareness is to keep your promise to simply treat people well.
Services: In Ireland, credit unions are still used primarily for savings accounts and loans. Despite the high percentage of credit union members relative to population, many credit unions in Ireland do not offer some of the mobile/digital services that are offered in the U.S. In fact, most credit unions don’t have an online banking service for their members. I must admit that I was a little surprised to learn all of this considering what we know about the demands of the marketplace – everything’s going mobile, right? The good news is that the Irish League is taking some extraordinary steps to work with credit unions so that they are prepared to serve an ever-changing and multi-dynamic consumer base. BEST PRACTICE: If membership growth is part of your strategic plan, make sure that you have the tools and services necessary to meet the needs of the marketplace.
Lending: Attention U.S. credit unions….you’re not alone in needing more loans! The biggest challenge facing Irish credit unions (especially the smallest ones) continues to be a lack of lending activity. In the U.S., many of the reasons for decreased lending are things that the credit union can control. These include ineffective/outdated marketing, lack of resources, membership saturation, inadequate employee training and development, etc.. We are seeing a modest improvement in the economy here and consumer confidence is starting to come back (albeit at a snail’s pace.) In Ireland, however, recovery from the recession is going even slower. Consumer confidence remains quite low and people just aren’t willing to borrow. This presents an enormous challenge for Irish credit unions that are willing and able to lend money. BEST PRACTICE: Focus your messaging and outreach to reflect the credit union’s desire to become a financial partner. Show empathy and a willingness to stand by the member’s side.
Those are just some highlights. Keep an eye out for much more in the near future!