DUBLIN, Ireland (8/31/10)--Facing some of the most difficult challenges since their founding, Irish credit unions gathered in Dublin Thursday to take the pulse of their industry and learn from the successes and mistakes credit unions elsewhere have experienced in challenging economies.
Paul Walsh, CEO, CUNA Mutual, Europe; Trisha Bulman, Swords & District CU, Dublin; and Mark Meyer, CEO of Filene Research Institute, chat outside the Dublin meeting hall where credit union managers, directors and regulators discussed the future of Irish credit unions last week. The Future of Finance one-day conference was hosted by CUNA Mutual Group. (Photo provided by CUNA Mutual Group)
CUNA Mutual Group hosted 50 managers and directors at a daylong conference in hopes of helping Irish credit unions endure a faltering economy and capitalize on opportunities. The event unveiled results of a pre-conference survey and revealed best practices learned by other credit union systems around the world. Other industry stakeholders attending were the credit union regulator, legislators and trade organization representatives. “Irish credit unions are facing the most significant challenges since their foundation,” said Paul Walsh, CEO, CUNA Mutual’s European division. “The economic climate in which they operate has collapsed. The ‘Future of Finance’ conference provides our industry leaders with a unique window of knowledge to other systems through Filene Research Institute and insight as to what their global colleagues are thinking on the credit union industry’s more pressing issues.” The survey, distributed by CUNA Mutual prior to the conference, was designed to prompt discussion among credit union leaders at Thursday’s event. Nearly 40 credit unions with an average 57% loan-to-deposit ratio and representing 654,000 members and $4 billion in assets responded to the survey. Survey results showed:
* The credit unions’ predominant financial strategy is “conservative lending”; * There is strong support for greater cooperation among credit unions and possible mergers; * There is total agreement the credit union sector is very important to Irish consumers, and a strong concurrence that governance and regulatory reform was, in itself, a good thing; * Respondents see difficulties with recruiting new volunteers and directors for future stewardship of the Irish sector; * About 90% said they are optimistic they have a future as a financial services provider; * More than 95% said the sector needs to be seen “in public” as having a coordinated view; * More than 90% said the image of credit unions must change to attract new members.
Ratings agency Moody’s downgraded the Ireland’s sovereign bond rating to Aa2 from Aa1 in July. The ratings agency said the move had been driven by the government’s gradual but significant loss of financial strength (BBC News
July 19). Walsh and Mark Meyer, CEO of Filene Research Institute, implored Irish credit union leaders to be innovative and take advantage of opportunities that other credit union sectors have in defining their future. “We’re in a position to shape the future, rather than have it shape us,” Walsh said. “It’s a privilege that comes to very few and it falls on you, leaders of Irish credit unions. Change will occur, but how it looks and feels and whether it’s a force for good or not will depend on whether you seize the initiative.” The global economic downturn has driven credit union leaders worldwide to rethink their business model, Meyer said. “This downturn doesn’t just represent a cyclical moment. It’s a rethinking of consumerism and of business,” he added. “This is especially true for U.S. credit unions that have long relied on an enormous appetite for loans.” Meyer urged credit unions in Ireland not to be fooled into thinking they can ride out the current economic storm. “You face even harsher economic conditions than in the U.S. Stirring the status quo in times like these doesn’t count as a strategy,” he said. “Downturns, especially one of this magnitude, are the best times to try out new ideas,” Meyer added. “There may be few other opportunities for trying new ideas. Now is a time for leaders who think about what members need for tomorrow, not just managers who agonize over what their organization might need today.” Economist Richard Curran also presented at the “Future of Finance.” Curran is deputy editor of the Sunday Business Post
, a leading business newspaper in Ireland.