Over three days in the hottest week of the year, the global credit union movement descended on Belfast for the 2016 World Credit Union Conference.
At a time when organisations in every co-operative sector are trying to get their heads around what digital means for the future of business, and how to sustainably engage younger members, the sessions felt particularly pertinent.
Professor Ian Goldin, one of the keynote speakers at the event, looked at how one of the main trends across the world was people living longer and healthier lives. “With an ageing population, [credit union] membership will be both young and increasingly old,” he said. “Each European generation is 30% smaller than the previous one.”
He believes the implications are serious for young people, who will have to save more before retiring, but it also has implications on how credit unions – and co-operatives in all sectors – ensure they stay relevant and accessible for all of their members, regardless of age or how long they have been a member.
With change comes the burden to remain relevant and provide members with the service they need, when they need it
This is particularly tricky when organisations are trying to navigate the inevitable change necessitated by the advent of new digital ways of doing businesses – and engaging with the membership that forms the bedrock of any co-operative.
“With change comes the burden to remain relevant and provide members with the service they need, when they need it,” said Mark Sievewright, president of credit union solutions at Fiserv.
Another session asked if credit union branches were becoming redundant in a digital world. They are certainly shifting towards being bespoke spaces for sales, service and education, instead of places of general transaction.
Will retail outlets eventually go the same way? How will co-operative societies manage this transition, especially in relation to colleagues?
This week, Co-operative News spoke to Minnie Moll, joint chief executive of East of England Co-operative, who, along with Mark Smith of The Southern Co-operative, has been appointed a BitC Responsible Business Ambassador.
Co-operatives have to “constantly push and stretch ourselves to be thinking about the ways we can help communities thrive and communicate the co-op difference,” she says. This difference stretches to digital, too, and ensuring future generations are engaged while existing generations are not relegated to the sidelines.
Co-operatives should be providing radical solutions to these issues – just as original co-op radical Robert Owen (1771-1858) did. His ideas around infant schools, sick pay and working conditions – seen as ridiculous at the time – quite literally changed the world.
Many of his ideas were explored in correspondence to and from Owen over the course of his life – and this summer, the enormity of his contribution has been recognised by the collection of letters being admitted into Unesco’s UK Memory of the World programme.
Owen lived during a time of great societal, political and economic upheaval – as are we. He took the notion of improving lives, and tried to make it happen.
Anyone subscribing to the idea of a ‘co-op difference’ should be trying to do the same.