Last week Barbados’ credit unions joined their global fraternity in celebrating International Credit Union (ICU) Day on October 15, further cementing the invaluable contribution of this sector to the lives of thousands of individuals and households on the island.
Focusing on the theme Inspiring Hope For A Global Community, the day sought to highlight some of the challenges confronting this movement’s global membership but also to demonstrate the sector’s ability to respond promptly and with compassion to the changing needs of members.
In his ICU day message to local credit unionists, president of the Barbados Cooperative & Credit Union League Mr. Hally Haynes made some poignant comments on the importance of the movement.
“For though 2020 has been a maddening, disruptive year of upheaval and illness, it has also been a year of growth, hope and purpose for credit unionists. . . . Credit unions have stayed true to their cooperative principles and have stepped up in meaningful and tangible ways during this time of economic uncertainty,” the BCCULL president informed.
In addition, he underscored the fact that local credit unions have responded with empathy while focusing on the peculiar needs of their members, many of whom still continue to be impacted by unprecedented job losses and disruptions to their lives, linked directly to the COVID-19 pandemic.
October 15 represented a day of ironies too. On that same day of celebration and reflection on the theme of hope, one of the island’s leading credit unions was confronted with another episode of damaging attacks from within its own bosom.
After weeks of assaults on the leadership of the island’s second largest credit union on social media, letters to the editor of newspapers containing scurrilous statements, and the unethical disclosure of members’ personal financial affairs on the front pages of the news, the credit union finally called the tactic for what it was – an effort that would do nothing but destabilize the entire movement in the pursuit of singular personal causes.
It was indeed a commendable decision by the leadership of City of Bridgetown Co-operative Credit Union (COB) to denounce what could be described as dangerous, injurious strategies by a group of members, who put the entire financial institution at risk. They engaged in a public campaign to achieve a goal that could easily have been addressed using the mechanism available within the body.
As the Americans would say, we have not skin in the game. But the most right-thinking Barbadians could assess that this strategy would play right into the hands of those who still have a distaste for anything that is owned and managed by black Barbadians.
An attack on one black-owned, powerful financial institution translates to an attack on the entire movement. The episode, though, represents an important wakeup call for the movement that matters of governance and transparency must remain in the forefront.
We commend the efforts of the credit union’s leadership to reach out and engage with members who have questions about some aspects of the institution’s operations.
Credit unions remain entities where individual member participation is encouraged. Unlike commercial banks and other non-bank financial entities where shareholders are ranked by the number of shares they own, in the movement, each man or woman’s vote is counted equally.
COB President Adlai Stevenson made the right decision to protect the interests of his credit union’s more than 65 000 members by choosing to engage with displeased members within the confines of the organisation and not in the public domain.
“We do not discourage dissent. We welcome it because it guards against complacency. However, we will not seek to respond to allegations and concerns at this time and in this forum. That is not the way the majority of our members would want us to conduct our affairs,” the president correctly asserted.
COB has been around for 37 years. Its growing membership is testament to its standing within the Barbadian community. It has had the benefit of outstanding leadership over its entire existence. And in its last financial, the credit union generated a surplus of over $4 million for distribution to members. It has deposits of over $450 million. That performance are not achieved by accident. It represents the contribution of members, management and employees.
This is no fly by night institution. The future of too many ordinary Barbadians is tied to the success of this institution and no effort should be spared to ensure that it continues to be well managed and its member’s needs are properly served.