Faced with the knowledge that the economy will not be improving in the foreseeable future, the Irish credit union community is looking for options to save as many credit unions as possible.
Some of Ireland’s credit unions–community-based savings and lending clubs owned by their members–lent aggressively during the go-go years of the Celtic Tiger economy and are now struggling during a severe downturn.
Earlier this month, the Centre for Co-operative Studies at the University College of Cork, held a seminar on the U.S. experience with CUSOs. NACUSO General Counsel Guy Messick, Mark Zook, chairman of NACUSO and CEO of MAPS Credit Union, Kirk Drake CEO of Ongoing Operations, Ray Crouse NACUSO board member and president of Allegacy Services, and Jeff Russell CEO of TMG Financial Services, attended.
“Our colleagues in Ireland are facing economic and political challenges that accelerate the need for collaboration,” said Guy Messick. “If they can develop the legal framework to enable everyone to work together, they have an excellent opportunity to preserve a vibrant credit union industry.”
There are more than 400 credit unions serving a country of a little more than 4 million people, with about 90% organized as community charters and about two-thirds of Irish citizens belong to a credit union. The largest credit union has $300 million in assets and the average loan portfolio of Irish credit unions consists of consumer loans and a small percentage of business loans. With the country’s economy currently stalled and little improvement foreseeable, a recent government commission report suggested that mergers may be the answer and has appointed a restructuring board to facilitate the process.
At the event in Cork, the U.S. speakers urged the reform of the laws to provide the legal framework for the creation of CUSOs without the need for lengthy regulator review.
“Credit unions have been a valuable part of Irish society for over 100 years,” said Zook. “NACUSO is willing to provide resources to help the Irish credit unions through this crisis. We welcome the opportunity to help our new friends and colleagues.”