ENGLAND and SCOTLAND – Scotland's credit unions are deemed a success story, but England's 600 credit unions need to change drastically if they are to survive in the modern world, according to a report written by Tina Barnes and Paul Jones. The report compares Scottish credit unions with those in England. Unlike their English counterparts, Scottish credit unions asked for exemptions to draconian regulations which allowed them to expand their memberships beyond the old limit of 500 people before that regulation was lifted in 2000 with a change of regulatory agency. Today many of them have well-trained professional staff, bank-like premises, up-to-date computer equipment and good marketing. In Scotland the big credit unions such as Capital in Edinburgh with 11,000 members and 1.4 (US$2.47) million in assets and Glasgow Council with 17,600 members and 4.6 (US$8.04) million in assets in Glasgow are success stories. However, many of the 600 English credit unions have less than 500 members and rely on volunteer staff. One of the conclusions of the study is English credit unions need more professionalism. Volunteerism is both a strength and weakness. Of the 1,000 credit union volunteers from 243 credit unions surveyed by Barnes and Jones, half of the respondents worked with 29% of those employed full-time. One in three volunteers was retired. Sixty percent of the volunteers donated between one and five hours a week while 18% worked for six to 10 hours. The length of service for 45% of the respondents was five years or more. Another 38% had been volunteering for at least three years. "The role of volunteers within credit unions is shifting, and the challenge facing credit unions is to strengthen volunteer boards with skilled and competent members who can develop credit unions as quality and modern financial institutions," Moore said. Jones and Barnes discovered that one of the problems encountered by 66% of the volunteer board members was "burnout." Jones, a senior lecturer in the School of Law and Applied Social Studies, has done other credit union studies including, "Growing Credit Unions in the West Midlands: A Case for Restructuring" and "Co-operative Management in a Competitive World," based on research into the development of an Manchester employee credit union. Active in credit unions since 1988, he serves on the Financial Service Authority's consultative panel on developing British credit union regulations. Barnes has worked with CUNA and the Association of British Credit Unions, Ltd. (ABCUL) and is currently with Southwark Credit Union in London. UK credit unions are seen as poor peoples' banks, an image that ABCUL is fighting to overcome. -


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