Read about how we are serving our communities and why we are well placed for significant growth over the next few years.
The impact of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis can be seen across all areas of society, including in our own local communities and economies. A recent survey found that 37% of people end the month with no money left over and 24% don’t have money for essentials either most days or most months. Currently, there is a broken system and the wealth divide is widening.
The recent Budget announcement outlined that the UK economy is narrowly expected to avoid a recession and inflation is set to halve over the next year, however, living standards are still predicted to fall by the largest amounts since records began according to the official forecasts from the OBR.
With increasing scrutiny on the UK Government to do more to help increase people’s economic security, many have turned to more ethical and affordable finance. Here at Great Western Credit Union (GWCU), we have been providing people with the tools to develop better saving habits, whilst helping them access the responsible credit that they need.
This article will explore how we’ve helped serve our region and why we are well placed for significant growth over the next few years.
Helping to create a better world
For almost 25 years, we have offered fair and inclusive services that help both local communities and the planet to thrive. In fact, 41% of savers chose to bank with us as they know their savings are helping other people in the local area. As a credit union savings are used to fund lending for those who are looking to borrow - bringing mutual benefit and stronger communities across our region. We have also helped 2,250 people at risk of homelessness to access accommodation, as well as aided a further 150 families through the UK Resettlement Scheme for refugees.
In recent years, one of the biggest discussions regarding banks is whether they fund fossil fuels or other initiatives harming the environment. Earlier this year, it was discovered that banks are still investing in these organisations, despite signing net zero pledges. Rather than supporting these financial institutions, people are beginning to put their money where their values are by switching to more sustainable banks.
Through services like our Solar Loan, we are helping local people to fund greener sources of energy at a time when traditional energy costs are high and carbon-cutting measures are needed. We are also champions of sustainable enterprises, such as Bristol Energy Cooperative, where we have invested £100,000, helping them to become one of the UK’s largest community-owned energy generators.
Affordable finance without boundaries
During 2020, in a world where people were advised not to leave their homes, digital banking services saw exponential growth and this transition has only accelerated what a trend was already well underway before the pandemic. In 2022 alone, an estimated 93% of Brits said they used online banking.
Over the past three years, we have significantly invested in this new form of banking with the launch of our digital platform. By developing our fintech offering, we have revolutionised the way alternative finance can be accessed, allowing users to manage their finances all in one place whilst making services quicker, more reliable and more readily available.
This came at a time when we expanded our common bond area (where our members live or work), first with our merger with Wyvern Savings and Loans in 2021 and then with our incorporation of Stroud Valleys Credit Union last summer. With these moves, we are now the biggest credit union in South West England and our services are available in Bristol, Bath, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire.
With our digital platform, we can now provide affordable finance to those who otherwise may not have had access to it across our region. Whereas in 2019, we had 14,000 members, we now serve nearly 19,000 people across our region and we have increased our coverage from circa one million to three million people. Not to mention, we changed our name from Bristol Credit Union to Great Western Credit Union to reflect our new wider area of service.
Ethical services in the workplace
Since the cost of living crisis, attention has turned to employers to provide financial support for their workers. According to new research, 66% of senior business leaders agree that they have a substantial role to play. Without this support, workers can experience greater levels of stress both inside and outside the office, which can lead to reduced productivity from an employer’s point of view, and increased retention risk where workers could be more inclined to change their job.
Our Money@Work service provides a convenient way for employees of our employer partners to save and borrow through payroll. We currently have 36 partners and 36,000 employees on the scheme, including Bristol City Council, Bath and North East Somerset Council, Dorset Council, Centre for Sustainable Energy, SS Great Britain, Sunseeker International and the University of Bristol. By giving people the option to save at work, we are helping more and more people who may otherwise not have known about what we do.
Be part of our next plans for growth
Amidst a tough economy since 2020, we have managed to weather the storm with continued growth in membership and lending, and we believe that things are already starting to look more positive than they did at the end of last year.
With the plans set in motion for growth, our upcoming Bond Offer, to raise our optimal target of £400,000, will allow us to make purpose-driven finance more accessible, whilst helping to provide financial support to people, communities and businesses in the local area. In addition, investments will help to grow our member base and boost our Money@Work offer.
We have received backing from Fair4All Finance, who have invested £500,000 in our round 2 raise, and who will invest up to a further £1m matching this new Offer. By supporting us, you can help to provide services to those most financially at risk and allow us to continue to offer fairer, more affordable and sustainable finance to people across South West England.