Credit unions: Winning converts

UK Only Article: 
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The trust machine

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Credit unions

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A venerable form of banking comes back into fashion

THERE is a proselytising feel to the credit-union movement. Believers talk of a “social mission”: to serve communities, not the false gods of the stockmarket. Today, this creed is winning more converts than ever before. Globally, the number of people in credit unions has doubled since 2000, from 108m to 217m. Savings are up by 130% in real terms (see chart).
Credit unions first appeared in 19th century Germany. Like banks, they took deposits and made loans. But, crucially, they were owned by their members, who shared a “common bond”, such as a profession or place of residence. Earnings were returned to members in the form of better interest rates.

In Europe, most of these early institutions evolved into co-operative networks, such as DZ Bank in Germany and Rabobank of the Netherlands, which are still owned by members but no longer serve a particular group. Elsewhere, the requirement for a common bond endures: Partners …

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