At time of writing, uncertainty of Brexit and the world-wide recession have led to a decline in consumer confidence, the knock on effect of which is a decline in consumer credit. Against this background I am pleased to report that the Credit Union saw no decrease in its lending over the year and so bucked the general trend.
Growth in savings continued to be more manageable than in previous years as a result of our various and very necessary controls over cash inflow. Overall and especially given the difficult operating environment, I think we can be satisfied with the year’s performance. We continue to provide a safe home for savers, issued 4,051 loans to our borrowing members and maintained our capital at sensible and reasonable levels. Capital is a key buffer against any risk or difficulties we might experience in the near future. Some credit unions believe, erroneously in our opinion, that maximisation of this buffer is crucial to viability and have what we would consider to be excessive levels of capitalisation. Our view is that as a mutual it is important that we distribute as much of our income to our members as is possible and that the accumulation of reserves beyond regulatory and future growth requirements should not be a priority. Effective use of income for the benefit of members is therefore our over-riding concern.
The significant developments in the Credit Union’s digital proposition reflect ongoing trends in consumer behaviour, further evidenced by a marked reduction in footfall through our premises. Of course we have to be careful to ensure that these developments do not dilute the excellent experience which Members expect and which we clearly deliver. The Board is very aware that ours is a people business and therefore the Credit Union building will continue to be the main centre for savings information and lending advice, as well as the place for your transactions should you need it to be. Whilst direct debit is very efficient and is the preferred method of payment for the vast majority of our members nowadays, we’ve no plans to restrict payment to this method alone. We believe Members and future Members want the convenience of a digital and electronic offering but the reassurance of a physical presence with a personal touch and we want to continue to provide that.
The satisfaction ratings I allude to above, underline the achievements of our highly engaged and professional staff. The staffing body has in fact gone through very significant changes over the years and it may surprise you that the Credit Union has provided employment opportunities to some 45 individuals largely from the local community, over the past two decades or so. We hope all those who pass through the professional ranks of our business, move on with an increased skill set and having learned something about business life and customer service. The one constant throughout those 20 years has been our Business Manager, Terence Ace. The Board and Terry have worked closely together over those two decades to help bring forth our vision for the Credit Union and create one of the largest and most successful credit unions in Northern Ireland.
Ormeau continues to focus on the needs and wants of its Members. I am however confident that Ormeau will steer a prudent and conservative path through what is likely to be an uncertain future, just as it has successfully done during my near forty years of active service with it.