In our latest interview, we talk to Jonquil Cairns, one of our longest-serving Board members
At Great Western Credit Union (GWCU), we are endlessly thankful to our Board of Directors for their time, expertise and passion for giving back to the local community.
In our latest interview, we talk to Jonquil Cairns, one of our longest-serving Board members, who joined us in 2015. Jonquil brings over 25 years of valuable experience after working in the Retail, Commercial and Operations functions of Lloyds Bank and as a Certified Accountant.
Never one to rest on her laurels, Jonquil has been Board Chair of the Risk Oversight Committee and is a member of the Audit Committee. Following her retirement, she volunteers as a Business Mentor for The Prince’s Trust and in customer engagement at Bristol Zoo.
What is your definition of a credit union?
It's all about local people helping others in their community and making fair and affordable finance available to everyone. This extends to being part of the credit union movement, with people able to offer support to their friends and neighbours.
Why were you motivated to join the GWCU Board?
When I retired from Lloyds Bank, I was looking for some voluntary positions. I thought that the skills that I had would be useful to the credit union, so I had a chat with Harry Partington who was the Chair and he thought that I would be a good addition to the Board. From there, I attended a few Board meetings, liked what I saw and so I joined. I strongly believe that people should be able to have access to credit at a fair rate, and it is important to promote that option over payday lenders and others who charge high rates, which can draw people into a deeper and deeper cycle of debt. Anything that I could do to help promote affordable credit, I felt was worth doing.
What do your responsibilities include?
I attend the Board meeting each month, reading the papers beforehand so that I am in a position to contribute. I'm also on the Risk and Audit Committees and I am a past Chair of the Risk Committee. Those committees tend to meet quarterly. The work of those committees is all about the viability and sustainability of the credit union into the future and ensuring that there are plans in place for when the unexpected comes along.
What is the most rewarding part of your role?
Seeing the credit union grow and reach more people. There are enablers of this, such as getting the right technology in place so that people can access us in the way they want, for example from a mobile phone.
The expansion of the ‘Common Bond’ and the recent merger allows us to reach people in a wider area. While the members of Wyvern Savings and Loans were part of a credit union and so had fairly priced credit available, joining a bigger credit union gives them access to more modern systems and efficiencies of scale.
What skills do you bring to GWCU?
I am a Fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. I have worked in banking for more than 25 years at Lloyds, so have a strong background in finance and many areas of banking. These skills are useful to the credit union.
It’s vital to manage the balance sheet and the liquidity position to safeguard the organisation through any bad times. Working in banking during the deep recession of the early 90s has given me useful experience to draw on as the pandemic impacts people’s finances
The impact on people has been much more polarised this time, as there have been plenty of people who have been able to work from home, collect their full salary and reduce their outgoings. Others have been hit much harder with at least a 20% reduction in their gross pay, or even a job loss, and those are the ones that have suffered financially in the current times.
What’s the impact and importance of alternative finance now?
I think it's more important than ever, partly for the reasons I have just outlined. While some have done very well financially over the last 15/16 months, others have been hit really hard. They are the ones who are likely to need to borrow if something unexpected comes along to hit their finances, as any savings buffer that they may have had is likely to have been used already. Or they may have had to max out their credit cards and now be looking to consolidate their borrowings into a loan.
The question is where do they go? There are plenty of lenders out there who are prepared to charge an awful lot for credit. If they come to the credit union, they are likely to get a fair deal.
What about the future of GWCU?
With the expansion of the ‘Common Bond’ area and the investment we have had from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Bristol City Council and the Bank Workers Charity, we are set to be able to grow strongly and reach more and more people than ever before.
Also, our new digital platform will help make alternative finance more accessible for many people across the South West.
We have a superb opportunity going forward. We have already merged with Wyvern Savings and Loans, which means we can offer our new system to people who were already in the credit union movement in the Dorset area and use the relationships Wyvern had established to promote our products and services. The new ‘Common Bond’ also allows us to reach out into Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.
Finally, what is your message to the public about GWCU?
Come and join us!