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NewsChair reports a year of 'growth and innovation'
Chair reports a year of 'growth and innovation'

The credit union's Chair of the Board of Directors, Alf Williams, reported at year of 'growth and innovation' at the Annual General Meeting on Thursday March 16, 2017.

Here is his report in full:

Ladies and gentlemen, fellow directors, members of staff

Welcome to our AGM! We have a lively programme this evening, a chance for us all to take stock on how we have done in the past year and what we plan to do in the coming year.

First, I’d like to give you a flavour of 2015/2016.

If I could sum it up, I’d say it has been a year of growth and innovation.

· Our savings are up by 22%

· Lending is up by 21%

· Membership has increased by over 11%

· Income generated increased by 17%

As for innovation, I’m really proud of the willingness of our members, directors and board to embrace change in a way that will sustain this credit union for generations to come.

In our service improvement survey early last year, members said they wanted to bank online. So in the summer, we became one of a handful of UK credit unions to introduce an online facility, following this up a few weeks later with a mobile banking app. We have been astonished by the enthusiastic take up and can now report that around 40 per cent of transactions are conducted online. Members value the speed and convenience of this new service. At the same time, online banking is helping the credit union to reduce the costs of routine transactions - giving us more time and resource to invest in the quality of service. And, to those members who are not completely sold on online banking, I should stress that we’re committed to maintaining and improving our face-to-face service at our branch in Worcester Street and the counter at the Civic Centre. Personal interaction both on an offline distinguishes the credit union offer.

In the last year, we’ve been even more assertive in taking on the exploitative lenders. Many of you will know how dismayed we were when Wolves signed a sponsorship agreement with payday lender, The Money Shop. We articulated our grave concerns to the club and in doing so, won the support of our members, local councilors and MPs. We operate in one of the most over-indebted regions of the country, where most people have savings of less than £100 - hardly enough to see them through even a minor crisis without having to resort to debt. And yet, the likes of the Money Shop and the rent-to-own stores, continue to dominate our city centre.

So this year, we’ve been unapologetic in taking on the payday and doorstep lenders. And I’m delighted to say that the rise in our ethical lending this year has saved our members over £1 million in high interest loans. We’ll be maintaining our campaigning stance against exploitative lending in the coming year, in particular, targeting the rent-to-own stores such as Perfect Homes and BrightHouse whose typical customers are young, single women with children, living in rented accommodation and on low incomes.

Growth and innovation would not be possible without the dedication, experience and vision of our Board. The burden of responsibility for credit union leadership has become weightier over the past few years. The bigger we get, the more visible we are to the regulators. And the greater the demands for accountability. Board members have taken these responsibilities in their stride. They are now getting to grips with a new national vision for the sector. In future, there will be fewer but bigger credit unions. So sustainable growth remains a core driver for the Board. And it’s an imperative that will demand more of our directors in terms of their willingness to challenge, to scrutinise and to innovate. I believe we’re equal to the challenges - and I thank the Board for their continued commitment and ambition for our credit union.

I’d also like to pay tribute to our employees. Sustainable growth and innovation would be impossible without their skill and passion for the credit union. So this year, we’ve made sure we’ve valued their pivotal contribution. First, I’m proud to say that we’re one of a handful of employers in the city to become a Living Wage employer. And then, this year, we’ve welcomed our third apprentice, Dawn Lindley. Finally, we’ve introduced a more structured approach to training and development, ensuring our employees are involved in and equipped for the changes and improvements we must continue to make.

As for the future? We’re planning a year in which we intend to well and truly embed the credit union ethos in local communities and workplaces. We intend to deliver this in two ways. First, we want to make significant inroads into recruiting more young members. They’re the first generation who are likely to be worse off than their parents. They face greater financial challenges than many of us did at their age: student debt, rising rents, little prospect of home ownership and increasingly insecure employment. The very least we can do is impart some money management skills to help them withstand the uncertainties of a post-Brexit world.

And second - with improving levels of employment in the city and the sub-region, we’ll be reaching out to more employers to become payroll partners. More employers recognise that money worries impact on staff wellbeing and performance. Our payroll deduction scheme provides a simple, automated way to save and gives workers access to affordable loans too.

I want to conclude by saying that it is never easy running an ethical business. We’ve chosen a difficult path. There is an inbuilt tension in what we do. We care about people first and foremost. And yet, without remaining highly competitive, we would fail to serve the very people we care about. So I hope tonight that we can demonstrate that we have succeeded once again in maintaining an ethical heart while keeping a prudent head for finance.

Thank you.

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