Rural Development Plan – Access to advice and financial services
We welcome the inclusion of support for advice services and access to financial services as a key area for intervention in tackling poverty. The Wales Co-operative Centre believes that access to responsible and appropriate financial services is critical to tackling poverty. We believe that the availability and use of credit union services are critical to both the individual and the community and so welcome plans to support access to credit unions and to broaden their membership for people who live and work in rural Wales.
Within rural communities with poor access to high-street banks and mainstream financial institutions, credit unions can provide an alternative. Furthermore, they are driven by their social purpose and not on commercial interests alone. They offer members financial products such as current accounts and affordable loans but also financial education and access to money advice. They are co-operatives and members have a say in how the credit union is run.
An excellent example of a strategic intervention helping in rural areas is the formation of North Wales Credit Union in 2010. Following the merger of 5 credit unions in the area, the Credit Union Current Account became available to all living or working in North Wales. Prior to merger the current account was only available to the members of Llandudno and District Credit Union with the smaller rural credit unions unable to reach the critical mass of membership needed to operate such a product. This new dynamic offers those in rural areas the use of this advanced transactional service along with responsible and affordable financial products that credit unions offer, at distance from any of their offices, without the need to travel.
We also believe that there is scope for a holistic approach to tackling digital and financial exclusion. This approach would help to improve people’s capabilities and ensure fair access to services. It would be particularly beneficial for those who experience in-work poverty or who experience poverty while on a moderate income by equipping them with skills and capabilities to better manage their money and access a range of services.