28 March 2020
By Mary Bermingham
Credit unions are here to support the people of Ireland in these unprecedented times – that is the message from Ireland’s most trusted financial services brand, the Credit Union. Ireland’s Credit Unions have in excess of 3 million members, and are the sole provider of credit for many of these members, accounting for approximately 34% of the consumer lending market.
CUDA (The Credit Union Development Association) have been quick to say that putting members first is at the heart of the credit union mission and never has this been more important than now. The representative body say that credit unions are ready to help their members with their financial needs as the country works together to address the challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis.
According to Kevin Johnson, CEO of CUDA,
“We anticipate that the incomes of up to 100,000 members will be immediately and severely hit by the crisis and as this crisis unfolds, credit unions are staying true to their member-focused mission by encouraging members to get in touch if they are experiencing financial hardship, so that they can provide help on a case-by-case basis.
As Ireland’s largest consumer lender, Credit Unions have a range of options in place for when borrowers experience difficulties such as reduced payments, interest only, payment freezes and loan extensions. While credit unions helped their members through the previous banking crisis, the scale of this crisis is even more challenging, and we are in discussions with the Central Bank to ensure capital requirements don’t stifle any of the options that are in place. We also want to ensure that borrowers are not penalised for missing loan payments, and that their long-term credit rating isn’t negatively affected.
No-one knows how long crisis measures will have to be in place and it is difficult to quantify the full financial impact these measures will have on credit union members, the economy and indeed credit unions themselves. So far calls to credit unions have increased by about 400%, with many calls from concerned members about their sudden loss of income and how they may be unable to meet some or all of their loan commitments”.
CUDA has created a web form for their member Credit Unions, to help standardise the request process for loan repayment flexibility, and to allow the credit unions to redeploy staff to assess and assist. The web form can be utilised by those financially impacted by the COVID-19 containment measures, and who are deemed to be in “pre-arrears”. This is an easy to complete form designed to help its 50 credit unions with prioritising the sequence of call backs.
CUDA highlights that Ireland’s Credit Union sector has completed a period of massive consolidation and have never been financially stronger. Issues of scale, governance and financial strength, have been massively improved since the last crisis and collectively, credit unions have never been more ready to support their members whose financial position has been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.
Mr. Johnson went on to say,
“We continue to follow developments closely and to monitor the latest advice from Government and health authorities. We endorse the decisions the Government has made and CUDA is providing support to and developing specific action plans with credit unions. Credit unions throughout the country are also in constant contact with their members and partners in their respective communities, to ensure that credit union services are maintained and to support members in financial difficulty.
We concur with the Government call for solidarity and community spirit which is synonymous with credit unions, and we support the personal behavioural change and necessary resilience in combatting this virus. We believe it is essential that credit union’s unique community position is utilised to the max in the Government’s action plan”.