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A Year in the Credit Union Sector

As the year edges closer to 2021, ABCUL Chief Executive, Robert Kelly reflects on what has been a memorable one for ABCUL and the credit union movement in Britain.


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Tuesday 16 January 2024

As the year edges closer to 2021, ABCUL Chief Executive, Robert Kelly reflects on what has been a memorable one for ABCUL and the credit union movement in Britain.

How was 2020 for ABCUL and the wider credit union sector?

A clear highlight for the sector came in March, following the announcement in the UK Budget that Government will bring forward legislation enabling credit unions to provide a wider range of services to members including hire purchase and conditional sale agreements and insurance intermediation.

The Association and credit unions across the country have been lobbying for legislative reform for years and we are ecstatic that our efforts have paid off.

ABCUL Conference delegates also heard from the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA), who announced the outcome of its consultation on capital which reduced credit union capital requirements for the largest credit unions from Monday 16th March. These measures are vital for credit unions to maximise their growth and fulfil the sector’s potential to reach more people across Britain with safe savings and affordable loans.

The measures provide a strong platform for credit unions to fulfil their growth potential and are vital early steps towards us achieving our shared vision and strategy for the credit union sector, ‘Vision 2025’.


How did ABCUL support UK credit unions during Covid-19 and lockdown?

Like many organisations across the country, ABCUL closed its office in March 2020 and moved to remote service delivery and this has continued ever since.

As the situation changed rapidly ABCUL produced a dedicated page for members on its website to ensure they had all the latest information in once place – in the early weeks this was updated multiple times per day.

To support this and to create a sense of connection and community when many were feeling isolated, ABCUL also supported members through exclusive weekly online meetings. They attracted high attendance from across its membership – from every area of the country and of all sizes and business models. In total there were 3,109 attendances from 132 credit unions across 8 months and 29 meetings.

These meetings have been incredibly powerful during the extended lockdown period, evolving from a way for us to communicate key messages and answer questions to a mechanism for sharing good practice between credit unions across Britain and for us to listen to concerns, challenges and successes as our members all successfully quickly adapted their services to continue to meet their members’ needs and protect the health and safety of staff and volunteer teams.

Additionally, ABCUL expanded its service to enable credit unions to host their AGMs online. In total it has successfully hosted 24 credit union AGMs from across the country since March and has 24 more scheduled to take place in early 2021.

In Scotland we have been actively encouraging the Scottish Government to support the sector. In July we wrote to the Cabinet Secretary Aileen Campbell asking for additional money for the sector resulting in the further release of £500,000 to be released from the Credit Union Resilience Fund (CURF), bringing the total of funds released this year from the CURF to £2.5million to enable credit unions to support their members.

In September we continued to lobby for additional support for credit unions. Welsh Government responded by making £1million available to credit unions to support their capital positions. This would not have been possible without our Members in Wales providing data to help strengthen our case for the additional support. In addition, to this Welsh Government also announced a government underwritten loan scheme, the Tenancy Saver Loans Scheme, run by WCVA and being delivered by credit unions.

The ABCUL staff team has worked tirelessly to support our member base in navigating the diverse challenges of the pandemic and continuing to deliver a fantastic membership service experience at the same time.

What is also most gratifying for me is how credit unions have responded to the sudden and drastic changes to their day-to-day operations. Our sector has gone above and beyond to support members through the pandemic. Despite the ongoing problems that the Covid-19 crisis forces on our communities, it’s fantastic to see credit unions, grasp it as an opportunity to enhance their services and maintain our ethos of people helping people. Each and every one  of our member of credit union’s staff, volunteers and board members should be proud of what they’ve achieved.

It’s safe to say that since launch of our Vision 2025 in March and celebrating the promise of legislative reform, it feels a lifetime ago. I am personally delighted with the start we have made with our Vision 2025 and, whilst there is no room for complacency and lots more hard work ahead, I am pleased with the success in what we have achieved so far. I want to thank the wider ABCUL team for their unstinting commitment and dedication to members alongside our ABCUL Board who have offered great support in not only the creation of the Vision 2025 Strategy but also in their collective desire to see it implemented in a robust and effective way.


What are ABCUL’s plans for 2021? What are you worried about or looking forward to?

Looking ahead to the future, we have much to be excited for including the ABCUL Annual Conference 2021 which will move to online delivery. Given the on-going uncertainty around what will be possible in the early part of next year, we felt it was right to make the call in September 2020, so that we could focus all of our efforts into putting together the best possible online experience for members for 2021.

Our ambition for the event is to build the best possible online conference experience. At ABCUL we are completely convinced that our members will pull together with the Association, as they have done all year, to make this an event we won’t forget.

We have also strived to find some quality time in amongst the other demands to ensure that our Vision 2025 Strategy is moving ahead at pace and that we are delivering on commitments made earlier this year.

We remain wholly committed to driving change in the sector and fulfilling our commitments made in the Town Hall Consultation and through the Vision 2025 Strategy document launched earlier this year – that will be delivered with our member credit unions right at the heart of the debates and implementation activities.


What innovations / changes would you like to see by / for credit unions next year?

First of all we would like to see the promised legislative reform passed in the early part of 2021. This is a key barrier to our members in innovating, especially around service offering. Once that is in place we are excited to see how our members use the opportunity to deliver value for their members across a wider range of products and services.

We have already seen a number of our members embark on ambitious digital transformation journeys and we look forward to seeing more of those take place as credit unions adapt to meet the needs of the people they serve.

Moving into 2021, Scottish Government has made several commitments relating to our sector. Firstly, it has given a commitment to produce a new Credit Union Strategy prior to this Parliamentary term ending next Spring. Secondly it has also committed to working with the Carnegie Trust and Affordable Credit Working Group to promote affordable credit. ABCUL is continuing to work closely with the key stakeholders and will be doing all we can to promote the interests of credit unions during this process. ABCUL has already consulted our Scottish members to take forward their key policy priorities for 2021 and will be looking to gain continued and further support for the sector ahead of the election in May 2021.

In Wales, we will also be consulting with our Welsh members to ensure we take forward their key policy priorities ahead of the next Senedd election in May.


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