Paul Handford talks about his nine years as a Board Member for Bristol Credit Union.
Our Board of Directors is passionate about giving back to the local community and bringing their expertise to the table.
In this interview, we meet Paul Handford who is leaving the Bristol Credit Union Board (now GWCU board) after being a member since 2012. Also, Paul is Communications Director at Resonance, a social impact investment company that aims to make change possible. A Bristolian born and bred, Paul has worked for a range of financial services companies and international ad agencies.What is your definition or interpretation of credit unions?For me, credit unions are member-owned organisations that help people understand finance, allowing them to save and borrow affordably and competitively.
Why were you motivated to join Bristol Credit Union as a Board Member?I’ve always been socially minded and there’s been a gap for people who are unrepresented by mainstream financial companies. BCU has filled that gap, particularly from a lending viewpoint, helping people that previously didn’t have the confidence or means to be serviced by high-street banks.
What was your role at BCU?I was a Board Director for nine years, heading up the People’s Committee in the latter period. The role has been varied and I’ve had the chance to support the Credit Union’s marketing and communications. When I first joined, all the Directors were more hands-on, as we didn’t have the resources and budget however, as we received investment, the Director roles became more Governance and Stewardship Board Director roles.
What was the most rewarding part of your role?It was nice to be part of something that is genuinely on the side of people who are underrepresented. At a Board level, we constantly saw stories of the difference the Credit Union made towards helping people, providing them with financial support and assistance that they couldn’t get from anywhere else. This has made it all worthwhile.
As a Board Member, what did you bring that benefitted BCU?As a Bristolian, I was able to impart my knowledge and experience of the city when there were fewer Board Members born in Bristol. I also provided marketing and sales experience that the Credit Union didn’t have at the time. In later years, I offered more general business skills.
What do you feel its role is for the city and the wider region? How would you like the impact to be recognised?I think more focus and measurement around the impact that BCU makes and communicating this, though impact can be very difficult for a Credit Union to calculate. There are a few ways that I think BCU can increase this:
1. Move individuals from borrowing to savings. This is the impact I think is most important as it proves that with BCU’s help they are moving individuals from constantly being in debt to being able to save for their future.
2. Report on the demographic of those borrowing and saving and align it to the demographic in the area the individual lives. This would prove how BCU is serving deprived areas of the city.
3. Provide more financial education to both members and non-members. I don’t think we can just provide loans without educating people on effective financial management. Instead, we must focus on a structure to help and support.
What is your message to the public about BCU?You may want to buy more locally but to be honest, it’s not necessarily about that. Instead, it’s about being part of an organisation that genuinely cares about people, providing them with fairer and more affordable finance. When you use BCU’s services, you are helping to make finance more accessible for people across South West England.
What is the impact and importance of alternative finance? What can it do that other means of finance cannot?I don’t think it is alternative finance as there is no difference in what it does. Inclusivity is what membership organisations, such as BCU, are about and inclusive finance can appeal to everyone. The benefit that BCU brings is a fairness so that everyone can benefit from it. It’s not just for those with money, or those that are poor, it's inclusive to all in society.
What do you think the future holds for credit unions as a whole?More mergers, like BCU’s acquisition of Wyvern Savings and Loans in Dorset. All credit unions need to improve their IT infrastructure to better compete with high-street banks and online providers, updating their processes so members are kept more up-to-date. BCU has done all of this and is set well for the future. I think the market will only get more competitive and there will be further consolidation in the credit union market, but I think BCU is well fixed to continue to do a great job for members for many years to come.
The Government hasn’t provided any real promotional power behind credit unions and so we need them to get behind these services and say they’re a great thing to support.
Many credit unions are going to go by the wayside. BCU is different; it’s younger and more diverse, with a forward-looking Board and management team and opportunities for potentially further acquisitions. There is a real opportunity.
What would you like BCU to do next? And how would you like the city of Bristol to help?I would like to see BCU provide more education on finances and terminology, helping people to break the loan cycle so they can start saving. BCU has to play a role in this education, demonstrating member-led benefits and services that can make a real difference.
There are a few ways the city can help, by everyday people promoting BCU and for Bristol City Council to fully get behind the Credit Union. Also, businesses can get involved by joining our Money@Work scheme, helping employees of our partners access great loans and savings directly from their payroll.
Thanks Paul for chatting to us and for his excellent work and support as a Board Member. Interested in getting involved at BCU? You can find out more about volunteering opportunities here.