Sheffield Credit Union

Jackie Hallewell discusses fairness in finance

What is a credit union?

Jackie A credit union is a savings and loans co-operative, which basically means people can put their savings in, they can take loans out when they need it. But we also supply loans to people who haven’t got savings, and we’ll encourage them to make savings going forward to improve their financial position.

What sorts of issues do your clients face?

Jackie I think there’s a variety, really. I think a lot of it is the squeeze on people’s incomes. Regardless of whether they’re working or on benefits, they need to make sure they’re not paying ridiculous amounts for their money. But they’re struggling to manage month to month, or week to week, therefore they’re turning to payday lenders. So it’s getting them out of that cycle of going to a payday lender, paying back more than you can afford too quickly, and then having less to live on on an ongoing basis.

Knowing that there’s a credit union out there, knowing about the flexibility – that we do have the savings, we do have the loans... What we have to offer is really important.

Is your customer base spread across the whole 83 bus route?

Jackie We have a huge amount of membership within the Southey, Burngreave, Firth Park area. That’s one of our biggest membership postal codes. I think people have found our services, they’ve needed them, and word of mouth means that more people in that area take them up. We have people in the other areas, but often they tend to be ethical savers, who see the good of the fact we’re not for profit and that we’re ethical. And then we’ll have members who want us for both – savings when things are good, and loans when they’re not.

What would the benefit of more people using Sheffield Credit Union be?

Jackie The more people that join a credit union the more products we can offer and more we can make sure it’s a robust organisation going forward. We’re becoming much more accessible via internet, smartphone access – just so that people can get in touch with us much more easily. The more people that take up products the more we can offer. There are credit unions, for instance in Glasgow, who offer mortgages, ISAs [individual savings accounts]. That’s what a credit union can do if it builds its membership sufficiently.

What brings ethical savers to you?

Jackie It’s probably losing faith in the banks – a lot of the crisis issues with the banks and the publicising of the fact that massive profits go out to the shareholders. And then the lack of willingness to deal with people. In many circumstances, they’ve been told they can’t invest in such risky projects and therefore they’re having to pull back the services they offer to people or charge them. So I think people are losing faith in banking and want an alternative.

How could finance and savings be made fairer for people in Sheffield?

Jackie I think it is support and knowledge, and making sure organisations that having influence in the city are the ones that are clued up enough, so that they can actually spread the word. It’s about recommendation. People are much more likely to trust an organisation if there’s that recommendation from people who are held in esteem in the first place, who are trusted.

We work with the advice sector, we work with the City Council, we work with large organisations where possible to spread the word that little bit more. We work with the job centre as well to get their staff clued up, so that people are being recommended to come to us in the first place. I think it’s everybody’s responsibility to recognised that it’s a fair option, and why it’s a fair option, and why you should recommend people, at least consider using a credit union.

What is fairness?

Jackie Fairness really means that everybody has an equal opportunity to access all the services that are out there – that there’s not a group that are restricted by a certain characteristic. So I think it’s just having that opportunity to access everything on an equal basis. Again, I think that’s where the banks have let people down.

It’s getting [people] out of that cycle of going to a payday lender, paying back more than you can afford too quickly, and then having less to live on on an ongoing basis.

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