A credit union in Mid-Wales is to have a major overhaul following its merger with a progressive Welsh Community Bank.
Brecon & District Credit Union has joined with Valleys-based Smart Money Cymru Community Bank in a partnership which will expand and upgrade the financial and banking services on offer now that it is part of a much larger organisation with a total of some 9000 customers.
Smart Money Cymru has branches in Caerphilly, Blackwood and Tredegar, and the link with Mid Wales is, says CEO Mark White, a logical step. “We are next door to Powys and our proximity means we can work together to develop an efficient and beneficial partnership for all our Members,” he said.
“This makes the new, merged entity one of the largest and fastest-growing financial institutions in Wales,” he added.
Since a relaunch following the Covid shutdown, Smart Money Cymru has made enormous strides. The Credit Union rebranded as a Community Bank and has invested in new digital platforms which has streamlined lending procedures and enhanced customer service. As a result, Membership has increased, and lending soared by 49% in a year.
“We learnt important lessons from our post-Covid review and I am certain we have a lot to offer the Members of Brecon & District now they are under the Smart Money Cymru umbrella,” he added.
The challenges faced by a Valleys-based organisation are in some ways different to the issues in rural Powys, but also there are many common themes, said Mr White. “Members everywhere want access to fair and equitable financial services provided by the most up-to-date digital systems, and this is what we can provide.”
The current cost of living crisis, he said, made tackling financial exclusion even more pressing. “Financial pressures on households are immense and are clearly going to increase, and this is why the work of credit unions and community banks has never been more important,” said Mr White.
Investment from the Welsh Government is in place to update digital systems in Brecon and improve the office, and a full time Manager is to be appointed to support the team of volunteers there.
“Within a short time we will be offering basic, but full, banking services in Brecon and this will be a real bonus for Members there,” added Mr White.
In the last year loans by Smart Money Cymru to its Members surged by 49% and Membership increased by 10% as a result, Mr White believes, of the new systems installed, which will now be available to Brecon & District Members. “We recently won the Tech for Good Award in the Social Business Wales Awards, and will now go through to the UK final.”
Another important initiative is Smart Goods, which Smart Money Cymru launched a year ago. The scheme allows Members to obtain loans with which to buy from a catalogue of 5000 homeware goods such as fridges, freezers and televisions and this has proved very popular. “This will also be available to Brecon Members to support them as Christmas approaches at this expensive time of year,” he added.
Jackie Bull, Chair of Brecon & District Credit Union, said: “Brecon & District has achieved a huge amount as a volunteer-led organisation but we needed merger partners who could drive forward our vision for community-led financial services in South Powys. We are delighted that Smart Money Cymru Community Bank offers this partnership”.
Mark White echoed her sentiments : “I believe this merger will bring many benefits to the Members of Brecon & District, especially in the present financial climate.”