Making a difference, one loan at a time

The Churches’ Mutual Credit Union (CMCU) is celebrating a year of growth with the news of another big potential increase in its membership – with the inclusion of the Catholic Church in England and Wales and in Scotland within its ‘common bond’. 

Chief executive Hilary Sams writes about how the CMCU is helping build a stronger credit union sector that benefits everyone.

(Image: Archbishop Justin Welby and church leaders launch the Churches Mutual Credit Union website, London, 11 February 2015.)

“I’m often asked if I miss working in the community credit union sector. Do I regret no longer working at the coal face of financial exclusion, making a difference to those abandoned by the mainstream financial institutions?

It’s not the easiest question to answer – to say no would risk giving  the impression that I am indifferent to the plight of the poor (which I am not) but a yes implies that the work of Churches’ Mutual is somehow of less value than that of other credit unions.

Call it clichéd but I have always loved the story of the starfish on the beach and the young boy’s mission to make a difference, if not to all of them, but to as many as he could, one at a time. This parable has helped me face some of the most daunting tasks in my life, and it applies to  the challenge facing us and many other credit unions, how do we become the lender of choice for people who have a choice?

Since we started lending in May 2015, the credit union’s loans have purchased 213 cars, two caravans and a motorbike, we have improved and helped to furnish seventeen homes, helped to pay for four weddings and three holidays and one laptop. This is important to us because this is mainstream lending – people who have a choice about where they source their credit are choosing to use CMCU because in addition to the co-operative and mutual ethos the loans are competitive, manageable, convenient and unambiguous. This kind of lending makes us strong and sustainable and a strong and sustainable credit union sector benefits everyone, the disadvantaged most of all. If we lend a minister £10,000 to buy a car it allows us to lend a church cleaner on minimum wage £300 to buy a washing machine.

It also allows us to be responsive to our members’ needs in the loans we offer. Since January last year we have walked alongside 31 households in helping to turn unmanageable debt into affordable credit and 16 ordinands as they settled into their first curacies. I’ll let one of them have the last word:

“Other loan companies wouldn’t consider us because we were finishing student life, changing job, moving and without a regular salary in place.(with the loan from CMCU) We felt blessed at a vulnerable time”

– Hilary Sams, CMCU Chief Executive

The CMCU was launched in February 2015 by the Archbishop of Canterbury and other church leaders with the Church of England, Church of Scotland, Methodist Church, Scottish Episcopal Church, and the Church in Wales as founder members. The United Reformed Church joined last year.

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