Finance News: Credit unions benefit from Pearls

Several UK credit unions have changed their lending policies as a result of a two-year project in which nine credit unions tested a financial monitoring and business-planning system used in more than 20 countries.

The pilot project, launched by the Association of British Credit Unions (ABCU) and funded by Barclays, showed that use of the Pearls software programme as part of business planning and management improved four aspects of credit-union finances significantly.

It cut operating expenses, improved net capital, reduced the rate of loans that were not paid on time, increased the number of people using credit-union finance and grew the assets of the credit union.

As a result, many unions have changed their lending policies so that loans are easier to obtain for those that need them, while ensuring that credit is not extended to those that cannot repay it.

ABCU chief executive Mark Lyonette said that ultimately, the Pearls system, developed by the World Association of Credit Unions, would help credit unions to reduce their reliance on grant finance and allow them to become financially sustainable: "This is an important factor if credit unions are to achieve scale across the UK."

Barclays has agreed to fund the roll-out of Pearls to 11 more credit unions, and the association hopes to expand this to 100 over three years.

It also plans to devise an online benchmarking tool so that all credit unions can compare their performance with peers of similar size and background.

The results of the pilot have attracted the attention of government.

Stephen Timms, chief secretary to the Treasury, said: "The results look very promising. The credit unions have shown a flexibility and a willingness to embrace new approaches, which augurs well for the movement."

ABCU hopes to be able to provide basic bank accounts for financially excluded people sometime in the future.

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