​Readying credit unions for the future

With politicians, churches, charities, housing providers and a lot of the British public increasingly looking for alternatives and more choices in the financial services sector, there are tremendous opportunities ahead for credit unions to provide the services consumers are looking for to people from all walks of life.

And with the sector now responsible for over £1 billion of British consumers’ savings, and with a trend towards tighter financial regulation across the industry in the wake of the global financial crisis, credit unions recognise that they are now held to higher standards than may have been the case in the movement’s early days.

In order to help credit unions equip themselves to improve their operations, address challenges, embrace opportunities and demonstrate their professionalism and sustainability to the regulators, The Credit Union Foundation, through sponsorship from SCAPE, is supporting the development of a new suite of training.

Delivered by the sector’s largest training provider, ABCUL (the Association of British Credit Unions Limited), the first phase has involved a root and branch evaluation of training already delivered for the sector by ABCUL and by other providers, and the development of a curriculum of learning that meets the movement’s requirements, developed as a result of comprehensive analysis.

This curriculum was delivered as a series of classroom workshops over the summer and early autumn to credit unions in Glasgow, with the sessions funded by Glasgow City Council’s Co-operative Development Fund. Glasgow is Britain’s “credit union capital”, with around 25% of the city’s population saving with a credit union (compared with around 2% across Britain), so this provided a fertile ground for testing the modules given the diversity of the population to be trained.

The Glasgow sessions have proved a two-way learning process, as the credit unions’ staff, directors and volunteers have not only learned from the modules delivered, but we have learned a lot of valuable lessons too to inform how we proceed with the training delivery.

Whilst the delivery has consistently met or exceeded delegates’ expectations in most instances, the method of delivery (face to face workshops) is recognised as unsustainable as the primary delivery method. This is because of the cost involved, the fact that credit unions are often unable to release staff for a full day, the difficulty involved in bringing together appropriate numbers of people with similar learning requirements in the same place at the same time, and quite simply because it is not the best delivery method for every module.

This experience has equipped us to proceed with confidence in packaging the training in the manner that will best benefit credit unions across the country.

The curriculum developed is robust and fairly comprehensive, and has been built to enable agility of delivery. Further work will now be required to convert the face to face materials into a fully blended solution that can be deployed as a distance learning package, taking advantage of the available technology.

Going forward, we recognise that the aspiration to convert some of the modules into a formally accredited qualification will only be viable if sufficient numbers undertake it. We feel more analysis may be required to validate this approach as, while this is attractive to many in the credit union sector, the costs involved in creating the qualification are significant.

A final objective is the procurement of a learning management system. This has been explored, however no solution so far identified is particularly appropriate to the credit union sector. We feel further investigation should take place to satisfy stakeholders that the most appropriate solution in terms of cost and functionality is sourced.

SCAPE’s support for this project has already allowed significant strides to be taken, and we are well on the way to developing a suite of training which will fit Britain’s credit union sector for the future.

Sean Thorpe is the Training Consultant for the Association of British Credit Unions Limited (ABCUL) and