I’ve popped into my local credit union a few times in recent weeks… you see I saw something that really didn’t sit very happily with me, my principles, my values, my aspirations.
Anyone who knows me knows just how passionate I am about improving financial education in this country… how angry I am that Joe and Joanne Public and small businesses are continually being short-changed by banks and other lenders, by the education system, by many so-called professionals, including my own of insolvency and debt advice. And that’s why what I saw stuck in my craw.
So what was it that riled me so much?
It was a poster in their ‘shop’ encouraging people to borrow from the credit union to fund this year’s holiday.
And it wasn’t even a small one, it was one of their largest marketing tools in the shop.
Let’s go back to the basics here. Credit unions were set up and are ‘directed’ by well meaning people who don’t make the mega millions the banks’ directors do, they’re not driven by greed, they’re driven by an overwhelming desire to help people and think they’re going a good job; they tend to lend to the less financially astute, poorer people in the community at rates that are far lower than other money lenders, even the High Street banks, can offer. They’re able to do this because unlike the banks they don’t have to pay major shareholder dividends, nor do they have the same level of operating costs, and they’re part funded by the public purse, in the case of Castle & Crystal Credit Union, by Dudley Local Authority. The local authority help out financially because the union is seen as providing a public service by helping the more vulnerable parts of our society. And there’s no doubt that they provide a good number of services that benefit people.
But I’ve a few questions for you…
Does selling smaller amounts of cocaine, cheaper than normal dealers, to an addict on its own provide a ‘public service’?
If it were you, would you feel compelled to help the addict eliminate their addiction?
Now put this in the context that Joe and Joanne Public in this country owe £1,500,000,000,000. The public is truly addicted to debt!
You see, I have a real problem with this, as I highlighted in the following e-mail to the senior management of the union, set out below…
I’m sorry if we don’t see eye to eye, but this can happen when there are major areas of principle involved and both people feel passionate about what they do.
Let me assure you I am selling nothing, my intentions were driven out of a passion to help people.
You see, I go into schools and colleges as an unpaid STEM ambassador getting the students to talk about what’s ‘good’ and ‘bad’ debt. One of the examples they discuss is borrowing to fund a holiday – and you have a poster promoting the borrowing of money for holidays in your reception area.
With the level of personal debt in this country so high, what I do is like swimming against the tide sometimes, so it angers me when an organisation such as yours, which I see as just throwing a little less petrol on the fire, not only fails to do anything to improve their customers ‘financial education’ but also promotes the taking on of ‘bad debt’.
If you are really interested in helping people, I believe you should be doing more to educate them, to help them avoid getting into financial problems, to help them pay down debt and take control of their money, rather than merely lending them money at lower rates than other lenders. And I don’t see you putting on any courses, seminars or other talks to educate people.
Others elsewhere have noticed where the real need lies, that of better financial education. Why haven’t the Union? And why aren’t they doing anything about it?
It’s fair to say that the conversation with the union’s manager that prompted the-mail didn’t go well – the fact that the first thing he said to me was ‘what are you trying to sell’ didn’t go down a bundle! I’ll put that down to the fact that I’m the only IP in the country who feels passionately enough about the quality of financial education in the UK that I’ve become a STEM ambassador – he didn’t have any reason to think I’m any different from the rest of my breed.
None of this changes the fact that the union just doesn’t get it…
… that they are part of the problem we have with debt in this country, not part of the solution…
… that going out of their way to offer to lend to the more vulnerable members of our society for things they really should not be doing on borrowed money, while at the same time not educating people on financial issues, makes them no better than our morally bankrupt bankers.
And when I said this to the gentleman, he simply didn’t get it. And I suspect the union directors don’t. And that’s why this country is in such a mess financially – when even the well-meaning people in control of our financial institutions aren’t continually challenging themselves about what they are and should be doing.
Oh, and if you feel as I do about this, you may like to raise your feelings with the Castle & Crystal board members that you may know. Click on this link to go to the relevant page on the FSA website showing who they are.