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GLASGOW, Scotland – Scotwest Credit Union holds 13% of the assets deposited in the 700 credit unions in England, Wales and Scotland. About to mark its 10th anniversary, the credit union has a lot to celebrate. With more than 15,000 members, it is somewhat of a phenomena in the British credit union world. Until legislation was passed last year, credit unions were limited to 5,000 members. Scotwest found a way around the rules, and legally. Manager Roderick M. Ashley said it became clear that to service their common bond, which includes government employee groups such as the water, metal, and single tier authorities in west Scotland, they needed an exemption from their old governing agency, the Registrar of Friendly Societies. They applied for and won three such exemptions. The first allowed them to expand to 6,000 members. Ashley, who has been with Scotwest for five years, said they quickly had to apply for an extension to 8,000 and finally to 20,000 members. When the regulation of credit unions is transferred to the Financial Services Authority in July, there will be no more numerical limitations on membership in credit unions. Scotwest Credit Union’s office is in a former townhouse built by a tobacco lord in the late 1700s. The kitchens are gone, but many rooms still have beautiful ceiling cornices. Despite the charm, Ashley says that managing staff on four levels and “wee rooms” can be difficult. No matter how beautiful the office, people do not drop in often because the membership is spread out over a 200 mile radius. Ashley pointed out those 200 miles are as the crow flies, not as the car drives. To service the membership, Ashley has three major tools: The telephone rings regularly and his 20-person staff is already to give answers to members questions. Scotwest is also one of the first British credit unions to have an internet site, his second tool. The third most important factor in Ashley’s member communication plan is the CU’s representatives, volunteers stationed in different authority offices. They hand out documents, take applications, answer questions, put up posters. Scotwest has successfully retained its Investor In People accreditation following the required three year reassessment. They were the first UK credit union to achieve the award which examines and assesses an organization’s internal procedures and practices in managing, training and developing its people. Scotwest wanted to celebrate its anniversary in a different manner, which is in keeping with the different way they have grown compared to other credit unions. They have hired the last sea going paddle steamer in the world and have offered members a day-long cruise down the river to visit common bond towns. The cruise is already over subscribed, and Ashley has said they will have a drawing to see which 500 lucky members will celebrate being part of one of Britain’s most successful credit unions. -

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