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Solution Centre

Ireland’s Credit Unions on target to retrofit 2,000 homes in 2021

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Credit Unions secure grant funding support from SEAI for unique end to end survey and finance package

Credit Unions are best placed to become primary source of finance for nationwide retrofit project

The Credit Union Development Association [CUDA], which currently runs Ireland’s first end-to-end home retrofit scheme – ProEnergy Homes, has partnered with Retrofit Energy Ireland (REIL) to secure grant funding support from the SEAI and has announced an expansion of the popular scheme, opening it up to all other credit unions.

CUDA report that, such is the demand from participating credit unions, half of the 2021 SEAI €1.5m in grant aid is already allocated, but as part the agreement, it is anticipated that additional funding will be sought in the second quarter.

The Pro Energy Home Scheme was first piloted by CUDA in early 2019 across 20 credit unions and was quickly oversubscribed. The scheme has proven popular as it takes all the “leg-work” away from the homeowner. Homeowners simply fill out an application form with their local participating credit union, after which REIL conducts an assessment on their property and present them with a report.

Kevin Johnson, CEO of CUDA explained why the scheme is so popular with homeowners,

As the trusted provider of financial services in communities throughout Ireland, credit unions are uniquely positioned to support the delivery of a one-stop-shop model for home energy retrofits.

A national project management firm (REIL) is appointed to oversee all surveys and works, grant funding of up to 35% is available from SEAI for all qualifying works and low-rate financing is made available for the balance of costs through the applicant’s local credit union.  To-date public demand for the scheme through participating credit unions has been strong, demonstrating people’s appetite for a ‘one-stop-shop’ model.

Based on the current level of interest from credit union members and the number of credit unions signing up to the scheme, we’ll need to look for additional funding shortly and can envisaging the annual level of grant application running at €6m – €10m.”

According to Josephine Maguire of SEAI,

“The SEAI recognises that access to finance can be a barrier to residential retrofitting so we are pleased to once again support credit unions in delivering the ProEnergy Homes scheme that provides access to finance at competitive rates to their Members. The SEAI has supported the ProEnergy Homes scheme for a number of years and the one-stop-shop model has proven to be a case study for the delivery of residential retrofitting at the ambitious scale targeted in the National Climate Action Plan.”

Commenting on the partnership, Minister of State with responsibility for Financial Services, Credit Unions and Insurance, Sean Fleming TD said “Credit Unions are uniquely positioned to support retrofitting plans in local communities across Ireland. I truly believe that the expansion of the ProEnergy Homes scheme, and similar schemes, will be a boost for local communities and will help the Government achieve its climate action targets.”

The Pro Energy Home Scheme model combines everything an applicant will need under a simple, unified process including an independent home survey report setting out their options, a dedicated project manager to arrange contractors, quality assurance on the works completed, access to low-rate credit union loans to finance the works.

CUDA say the scheme has now been tweaked slightly in response to the pandemic. Home surveys and works will resume as soon as it is safe to do so, but in the interim, a team of expert project managers and surveyors are available for telephone consultations with interested applicants. The ‘free and no obligations’ call-backs can be requested from www.proenergyhomes.ie and applicants will have the opportunity to discuss all their available options and receive professional advice on any technical questions they may have.

The average amount spent is about €14,000 made up of grant, savings and borrowings. The most popular measures undertaken in 2020 were external wall insulation, new glazing. Multi zone boiler controls also proved very popular. The scheme covers retrofits to a range of energy systems, including attic insulation, external wall insulation, the installation of solar panels, and upgrades to windows, among others.

Mr Johnson added, “Presently, SEAI grants will fund up to 35% of the cost of your retrofit. In our experience of running the scheme, the cost to the average household of bringing their home up to the recommended B2 level rating will cost approximately €30,000 – €40,000. So, just accounting for 35% of that cost through grant aid will leave a bill of roughly €26,000 for works. We recommend homeowners to use some saving to help lower the cost of any additional borrowing to cover the remaining bill, or indeed to cover the full cost of works, depending on how much they have saved. For example, take a cost of €40,000 to get a home to a B2 rating – the 35% grant will cover €14,000, which leaves €26,000 for the homeowner to cover. If they have €10,000 saved – this reduces the amount to be financed by a ProEnergy loan to €16,000.”

Mr. Johnson also welcomed the Governments clear commitment to supporting upskilling and job creation nationally as demand grows for retrofitting projects,

“As community organisations, credit unions are anxious to support local tradespeople. CUDA supports the Government’s announcement of four new centres of excellence to train 2,000 people in retrofit skills[1]. Upskilling existing tradespeople nationally will allow for job creation across the country and will support local economies while ensuring competition keeps prices and exchequer funding to a minimum.”

[1] https://www.gov.ie/en/press-release/16253-minister-harris-announces-four-new-retrofitting-centres-of-excellence/

Credit unions will use a proportion of €9bn in lending capacity to reduce SME lending costs

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“Rapid growth in Credit Union lending expected to continue as Solution Centre rolls out enhanced Credit Union Business Model”

Responding to today’s launch of the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation’s Report entitled “ The Cost of doing Business ” and last week’s decision by the Department of Rural and Community Development and the Department of Finance, not to support the establishment of a new local public banking system, CUDA (Credit Union Development Association), the representative and lobby group for Ireland’s largest credit unions, said that its 48 strong network of the more progressive credit unions can fill this void and provide the much needed competition to the banks.

Speaking at the launch today, Kevin Johnson, CEO of CUDA, which is also behind the Solution Centre – a collaborative initiative that supplies product development and business supports to the Credit Union sector to enable them to lend to non-core sectors,

“We welcome the excellent work of both Joint Committees and their recognition that the cost of doing business, particularly the cost of borrowing needs be brought down, and that priority should be given to working with the existing framework provided by credit unions and An Post networks nationwide. Credit unions are already playing an increasing role in the Irish retail financial sector and CUDA anticipates working closely with the Central Bank of Ireland to expand the product and services that credit union branches throughout the country can offer individual and business members.

While having enjoyed strong lending growth in 2017, our 48 member credit unions are forecasting rapid growth in 2018 & 2019.”

CUDA say that it has taken a leadership role in lobbying for and developing the changes that are essential for credit unions to meet the demands of the current financial landscape. Through the Solution Centre, they have introduced new products, and implemented new processes and systems that will deliver the benefits that the advocates for public community banking are seeking.”

Mr. Johnson continued,

“Credit Unions have the lending capacity and are developing the expertise to take an enhanced role in relation to lending to SMEs. In tandem with the accompanying management and advisory support structures offered by the Solution Centre, numerous credit unions throughout the country could provide loans to SME’s, say up to €75,000.”

Mr. Johnson concluded,

“Credit unions can be at the financial heartbeat of our indigenous economy and can create a platform for rural revival, and indeed urban stimulation. With 268 credit unions and billions of euro currently available to lend, credit unions are very well positioned to deliver this service.”

Ends

 

Note to the Editor

The Solution Centre

A group of the country’s strongest credit unions established the Solutions Centre, a FinTech facilitated by CUDA, which supplies product development and business supports to the Credit Union sector and has embarked on an ambitious business transformation programme for the sector, of which mortgages is just one milestone.

Rather than simply replicating the actions of banks, the Solution Centre believes that credit unions have the flexibility and adaptability to quickly adopt new ways of doing business that will see a re-building of their market share. Credit Unions participating in our digital loan marketing programme have seen loan growth of 10-20% in a relatively short space of time, with minimal investment. It’s clear the movement’s leading credit unions have embarked on a transformative digital journey.

With 48 of the larger and more progressive credit unions, representing one third of credit unions members, coming together under the Solution Centre umbrella – we now have a structure to facilitate credit unions to achieve their goal of continuing as consumer-owned co-operatives, while delivering much needed new products and services to their members.

 

CUDA

CUDA, the Credit Union Development Association, was legally incorporated in 2003. In its early days it was the representative voice, on behalf of its owner member credit unions, with legislators and regulators. It has since evolved and now, as well as providing a ‘voice’, it is increasingly providing support facilities in the areas of regulatory compliance, risk management, shared services and competency development.

The future for Credit Unions – Kevin Johnson – Sunday Business Post – 15th January 2017

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Ireland’s credit unions must try to meet the needs of borrowers and savers by evolving

What’s uniquely interesting about credit unions is that the ‘problem’ is how to deal with, and build on, success. Credit Unions have approximately 3 million members, who continue to shrewdly save and have now amassed in excess of €12bn in savings. The challenge for credit unions is how to help their members who continue to build their ‘safety net’ through savings with a fair reward without putting these funds at risk – the latter of which is a shared objective with the regulator. Consistent with the objectives of the credit union, as enshrined in legislation, they also want to meet the borrowing needs of their members with a range of loans. This will ensure mutual benefit for savers and borrowers, by charging a fair rate to borrowers and paying a fair rate to savers.

Credit unions have embraced the enhanced governance framework, introduced in the Credit Union Act 2012 and subsequent regulations, at significant additional costs, but, as intended in the report by the Commission on Credit Unions, the quid pro quo of a more enabling tiered regulatory approach has not yet been delivered. It is worth noting that credit unions are more restricted now than prior to 2012 as a result of these new regulations – that’s not good for consumers, communities or their credit unions.

So what’s the way forward? There are several actions that can be taken to ensure the uniqueness of the credit union model is recognised by decision makers, while credit unions themselves can continue to evolve their capabilities;

  1. Establish a ‘Select Sub-Committee on Credit Unions’ from the Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach to play a key role in scrutinising the ongoing relevance of legislation, policy and related credit union matters;
  2. Introduce proportionate regulations, which will allow some credit unions to continue offering basic savings and loans only, while allowing other credit unions to develop and offer a greater range of services, provided they have what is necessary to manage the additional inherent risks.
  3. Amend the Credit Union Act ‘97 to allow credit unions lend directly to Housing Bodies for Social & Affordable Housing. This will let them meet their social objectives which will help counter balance any perceived loss of cohesion and identity as they get bigger;
  4. Reflect the importance of credit unions to the people of Ireland by having their regulator, the Registrar of Credit Unions, report directly to the Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland.
  5. Build on the successes of 2016, probably the biggest year of change in the credit union sector for decades, with considerable consolidation through mergers and the establishment of non-partisan collaboration groups such as the Solution Centre.

While CUDA will relentlessly continue to seek actions 1 to 4 above, action 5 means that credit unions offering a full range of financial services, from personal loans, mortgages, payments, investments, insurance and pensions, is now closer than ever before. We are seeing a rapidly increasing level of cooperation between credit unions, which initially focused on shared management service arrangements such as regulatory compliance and risk management, but has now expanded to significant projects supported with full risk analysis to enable a more expedient regulatory approval process facilitated through the formation of the Solution Centre, a hothouse unit developing specialist products, supports and solutions for credit unions and now has membership of credit unions who manage over one third of the assets of the sector.

Credit Unions who share the desire to develop their business model are collaborating through the Solution Centre and are starting to deliver a stronger and more forthright sector. This is good for consumers on so many levels – apart from ensuring fair interest rates and fees in the market, it allows people to be part of a highly-networked community focused on economic, social and environmental change.

It’s already working because initiatives are fully thought through; for example, in the case of the new mortgage support offering, a full assessment of all the steps in the process was completed and those credit unions utilising this resource will have ongoing access to specialist expertise. This should give confidence to regulators to extend the limits under which all credit unions currently operate.

Credit unions working together have the desire and the skill-set to develop and to become a real alternative to banks and other finance houses.  Credit unions have approximately €4billion out in loans, which is less than 30% of their assets, ideally this should be closer to 70%. This means they have a staggering €6bn available to lend.

So, what does all this development mean for credit union members? Anyone who joins will get improved, better tailored financial services in terms of mortgages, personal lending and savings, while also participating in a unique relationship with their credit union.  While members are often aware of how dependent they are on their credit union, it is actually an interdependent relationship. In practical terms, credit unions will improve their communications to ensure that members appreciate the co-dependent benefits of doing business with their credit union, and will not want or need to go elsewhere for their financial services.

Kevin Johnson

Chief Executive Officer

Credit Union Development Association

CUDA Welcomes CUAC Report

By News

 CUDA welcomes CUAC report

 Modernising Credit Union Lending rules will deliver real value in mortgages and personal loans

The representative body for Credit Unions CUDA has welcomed the publication of the CUAC report which reviewed the implementation of the recommendations in the Commission on Credit Unions.

Commenting on the findings, Kevin Johnson, CEO of CUDA, “The report highlights the long overdue need to review the current credit union lending limits. Modernising these will deliver better value for consumers in personal loans, mortgages and other financial services areas, something that the Government acknowledges is sorely missing in our economy.

We are also pleased to see our call has been listened to – we have long been advocating for a change in the outdated long-term lending limits to more accurately reflect consumer demands and the current financial environment”.

CUDA has also strongly campaigned for changes to be implemented that will allow Credit Unions to immediately provide funds for social and affordable housing, thereby helping to meet the serious supply problems facing prospective home buyers.

Kevin went on to explain, “Fundamentally, Credit Unions offering a full range of account and financial services, from personal loans to mortgages and savings to pensions, will drive greater competition. This will lead to lower cost products which can only be good for all consumers and which is all but absent from the market at the moment. We look forward to working with the proposed Implementation Group to make this a reality.”

The representative body say that an aspect of the report that struck them was that “the need for leadership at the centre and an understanding of the risks involved in longer-term lending were flagged by the Central Bank as areas of concern for credit unions seeking to move in this direction.”

Kevin commented, “This is something we are firmly behind and we have made great strides in this regard with the establishment of the “Solution Centre” which facilitates collaboration, innovation and business development”.

The Solution Centre, which is open to all credit unions, comprises a selection of the country’s strongest credit unions and is a hothouse unit developing specialist products, supports and solutions.

Kevin went on to say, “We have already delivered a number of projects that were drawn from the objectives of participating Credit Unions strategic plans. One of the first of these products will be supporting a mortgage offering which is expected to be available in August to participating credit unions representing approximately 25% of credit union members”.

CUDA says the report also correctly acknowledges the great work of all stakeholders which is resulting in ever strengthening Credit Unions.

Kevin concluded, “We thank the CUAC for the thoughtful consideration they have given to our proposals. Credit Unions continue to grow their market share of the consumer loan market and, now with strong capital, stronger governance and greater capabilities, they are fantastically positioned to broaden the range of services they offer to current and potential members”.