WILTSHIRE and Swindon Credit Union (WASCU) says a merger with two other credit unions and a rebrand as Acorn Community Bank will allow it to offer an even better service for members.
WASCU, which has around 4,000 members including around 1,000 in the south of the county, is joining forces with Clivey Credit Union in Swindon, which has 600 members, and Swan Community Bank in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire to relaunch as Acorn Community Bank from 3 April.
Credit unions, which are owned by their members and run on their behalf, provide affordable loans for people who are unable to get credit elsewhere to prevent them from going to payday loan companies or loan sharks. Members open savings accounts and, provided they meet loan criteria, can take out loans which are repaid monthly.
WASCU board chair, Nick Gallop, explained that the merger will make it even more responsive to members’ needs. “It will allow us to benefit from economies of scale and give us the opportunity to grow,” he said.
The community bank, which was recently voted Community Group of the Year at the Wiltshire Life awards, will continue to be based in Cavendish Square, Swindon, and support families and individuals across the county, as well as the much larger area.
Mr Gallop said the name change reflects a new focus on encouraging savings.
“We will continue to offer the same high level of service that earned WASCU the Best Credit Union (South) award in financial website Smart Money People’s 2022 Consumer Credit Awards,” he said.
“We want to reassure all of our members that savings and lending will continue as before.
“We thought long and hard about the new name and decided that one of the things we are supposed to do is encourage savings, which really isn’t in the old ‘credit union’ title. We want to encourage people to save and protect their future and that fits much more neatly with the new name of Acorn Community Bank.
“The things the Acorn name stands for are growing, saving and a focus on the future. It’s about reliability and solidity and something that people can trust.”
WASCU grew by merging four credit unions from different parts of Wiltshire in 2016 and now lends more than £1 million a year. Mr Gallop said: “We have seen a steady rise in demand over the last few years, demand which is currently fuelled by the cost of living crisis.”
Its loans are used by people who struggle to get credit at high street banks for emergencies such as car repairs or replacement of white goods.
Its most popular product is its Family Loan, which uses members’ Child Benefit for repayments. You can borrow up to £500 and the credit union takes repayment directly from the benefit when it arrives before passing on the balance later on the same day.
Last year Acorn invested in a new IT system to modernise its systems and introduce new loans. It has already introduced a simple banking app and new types of lending will follow.
Mr Gallop said: “We are excited about our new technology, the name change and the merger. These take us to a new level and allow us to provide better, flexible and accessible services without losing the personal touch that has been a lifeline to so many people.