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To celebrate International Credit Union Day, we’re taking a look at the history and value of credit unions.

International Credit Union Day

International Credit Union Day (ICU Day) takes place annually on the third Thursday of October, with the next installment scheduled for October 19th. First established in 1948, ICU Day’s aim is to make more people aware of the work carried out by credit unions around the world and the benefits they deliver.

But when, where and why was the first credit union established? And what do credit unions really do? Let’s take a look.

What is a credit union?

A credit union is essentially a bank which is controlled by its members and operates on a not-for-profit basis. This means that, unlike commercial banks which are either privately owned or publicly traded, credit unions typically offer their members lower rates on loans, fewer – and lower – fees and higher annual percentage yields on their savings products.

Like commercial banks, credit unions offer financial services to its customers, such as access to loans, savings accounts and expert advice. Credit unions vary in size and can have anything from a handful of members to hundreds of thousands of them. There are more than 230 million credit union members worldwide, with approximately 1.3 million in the UK alone.

How did they first come about?

The first credit union – known as The Household Association – was founded in Slovakia in 1845 to provide cheap loans to its members.

By 1859, more than 200 credit unions had opened up across Germany and, by 1888, they’d spread right across Europe, to countries including England, Italy, France and the Netherlands.

What about Leeds Credit Union?

We were established in Leeds in 1987 as the Leeds Council Employees Credit Union, where we offered savings and loans to local authority staff. We opened our doors to everyone living or working in the local authority area in 1997.

Leeds Credit Union has four branches across Leeds and also operates across Wakefield, an area we’ve covered since 2014. Our services are also available to individuals living or working in Harrogate and Craven and more recently, the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham, as well as staff of certain other employers and housing associations.

Since 2009, we’ve been one of the UK’s largest credit unions, helping more than 37,000 members, by offering lower interest rates than many other lenders – we’ve saved our members millions of pounds over the years.

Why are credit unions so popular?

There are lots of reasons but some of the most common are:

  1. We put people before profitWhereas banks are for-profit businesses with shareholders to answer to, credit unions are not-for-profit businesses that are only responsible for their members’ financial wellbeing. This means we can focus on creating the best possible customer service experience for our members, instead of trying to generate profits at every opportunity.

    Credit unions are also often more willing than banks to help you if you have a low credit score or are temporarily out of work. 

  2. We work with our membersBecause credit unions are owned by their members, we listen and react promptly to their questions and concerns. We also take our members’ feedback and use it to make positive changes to the way we work, enabling us to introduce new loans, savings accounts and policies specifically tailored to our members’ needs.
  3. Our affordable loans are centred around your needsWhatever you need the money for, regardless of the amount, credit union loans are built around their members and typically offer a range of flexible and affordable loans that have fair and competitive interest rates which are capped by Credit Union legislation. 

    This ensures nobody is encouraged to take out a loan with unaffordable repayment rates and everybody who needs support can access it.

  4. We look after more than just your financial wellbeing If you’re a member of a credit union, in addition to financial products, you’ll also have access to financial advice, such as how to borrow responsibly or how to develop an effective savings habit, and this is vital to protect our members’ mental health.
  5. Your money is safe with usCredit unions are authorised and regulated by both the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA), which protects our members by ensuring we’re run to strict regulatory standards.

    Furthermore, members’ savings are protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), meaning that if anything DID happen to your credit union, your money would be safe and your finances would remain intact. 

Join LCU today

At Leeds Credit Union, we’re committed to helping our members become as financially stable as possible. To find out if you’re eligible to join, click here.