The Irish League of Credit Unions has this week given an overview of figures for credit unions ahead of year-end 2014. There is no denying that the past number years have been very difficult for credit unions like many others in the financial services sector. However, as the first signs of possible economic recovery begin to appear, the credit union results show a more positive outlook for the movement in 2014.
The vast majority of credit unions are currently making a surplus and while credit unions continue to see loan demand decrease - falling arrears, falling loan write offs and the increasing number of credit unions making a surplus reflects a more positive picture for the credit union movement. Membership of the country’s credit unions has also increased by 70,000 to 3.3 million members, a reflection of continued loyalty to the not for profit, community lenders.
As of the end of June 2014, total assets in ILCU affiliated credit unions in the Republic of Ireland amounted to €12.7 billion (up from €12.47 billion in Sept 2013). Furthermore, savings in ILCU credit unions are up to €10.7 billion. Perhaps most encouraging of all is that gross loan arrears have reduced substantially in recent years and now stand at €644 million. Total gross arrears have fallen for 10 consecutive quarters in a row since arrears peaked in December 2011,
Taking a closer look at figures for credit unions in the Republic of Ireland, we see that gross loan arrears were €644 million in June 2014 this figure is down €130 million or 17% year on year. Gross loan arrears peaked at €925 million in December 2011at the peak of the economic crisis but have fallen by €281 million since then. Loan provisions now exceed gross loan arrears by a buffer of €59 million (June 2014) and net arrears are covered by a buffer of provisions of €207 million. Loan write offs are 30% lower than in 2013.
The decline of credit union loan books is a continuing concern in the movement. The loan book in June 2014 totals €3.69bn which is down 8.3% or €335 million year on year. However, credit unions understand that families and individuals have been hit hard by the recession over the past years and have been prioritising their household bill payments and domestic expenses and not looking to borrow.
Looking to the year ahead, addressing the fall in loans is now the biggest challenge for credit unions. Although loans fell by €50 million in the last quarter, there is some evidence that the trend is slowing. It is hoped that as the economic recovery gathers pace, members will feel more confident to borrow from their local credit union.
In the 9 months to June 2014, credit unions have issued €1.2 billion in new loans to members and we estimate that €1.5 billion in new loans will be issued for the full year. These are small, modest loans on average €3,029 for things like third level education, back to school, Christmas, home improvements, Christmas for example.
In terms of volume, credit unions in Dublin issued the most new loans - €988 million for the year to date. The next biggest was Cork with €610 million in new loans. The average new loan in 2014 is €3,029 while the average loan outstanding is €6,267.
Credit unions have been acting responsibly over the years of austerity and ensuring that loans are fully provisioned. Loan provisioning now stands at €703 million or 19.1% of the total loan book. Provisions have been built up over recent years and now exceed total gross arrears by €59 million and net loan arrears by €207 million. Savings attached to loans remain very high, this is unique to the credit union movement. Of the total loan book of €3.7 billion, there are savings of €1.5 billion attached (i.e. 40% of the loan book is covered by savings).
Credit unions in the Republic of Ireland are seeing an increase in savings for the first time which is also a positive sign. Savings at the end of June 2014 were €10.7 billion, up €222 million. Savings were up €71 million for the last quarter (April - June 2014), with some 288 credit unions reporting savings growth for the full year to date.
It is likely that more credit unions will be in a position to pay a dividend to members in the coming months with over 300 extending dividends to their members last year and it is hoped that credit unions can build on that success next year. The average dividend in 2013 was almost 1% which is down slightly on previous years. However, it is clear that the reduction in dividends being paid is not impacting savings. This may be due to the fact that the banks are offering historically low returns on savings. However, the main objective of the movement will continue to be to provide a safe and secure environment for savings and to offer modest, affordable credit to members.
Credit unions can to look to the future with positivity as we continue to expand our service offering to best meet the demand of our rapidly growing membership. It is a testament to this movement that in times of economic crisis, many still turn to their local credit union for a helping hand. We have a rich history in this country and our ethos will never change. We will continue to serve our members as we have done over the past 50 years.
Martin Sisk, President, Irish League of Credit Unions