South Wales credit unions merge in bid to tackle high street banking deserts

Newport Credit Union says its merger with Smart Money Cymru will deliver access to online banking services and high street branches

Two credit unions in South Wales – Smart Money Cymru Community Bank in Caerphilly and Newport Credit Union –are merging to form the largest organisation of its kind in Wales.

Keeping the name Smart Money Cymru, the merged “super credit union” will offer financial services to more than 15,000 members across a branch network extending through the Valleys and into Mid Wales.

The development – which follows the 2022 merger between Smart Money Cymru and Red Kite Credit Union – comes against a backdrop of high street branch closures by mainstream banks, leaving many communities without services. Meanwhile, consolidation is a continuing trend for the credit union sector.

The two credit unions jointly employ 26 people and say the merger will mean job security and improved training and career prospects.

Smart Money Cymru, backed by the Welsh government, has been making major investments in its online tech, and Newport members will gain access to a phone app, faster turnarounds, online loan applications and the local branch network.

Newport Credit Union said its small size had been hampering its efforts to “deliver improved, relevant, accessible services” and pay a divi.

“Smart Money Cymru is well-resourced and has invested in technology to offer online, digital financial services, with quick loan decisions and instant online account access,” it added. “Smart Money also has face-to-face services across all its branch locations and outreach facilities in local communities through local banking hubs.

“Smart Money plans to expand services even more during 2024 by launching its own debit card for members. On top of all this, Smart Money has consistently paid members a dividend over the last ten years. Last year, its members received 1% on their savings.”

Smart Money Cymru CEO Mark White said: “The 3,500 members in Newport will now be part of a larger organisation with a network of branches offering a wider range of financial services.

“We are aiming to greatly expand the membership in Newport who will find the city centre branch continues to provide a high level of personal service, as well as an extended offer of more technically advanced products for savers and borrowers alike.

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“As high street banks shut their doors, the credit union movement is working to restore local banking – opening new, modern branches offering a full banking service in a welcoming environment. Unlike the traditional banking sector, credit unions offer a different approach since, being member-owned, they are constituted to benefit members rather than shareholders.

“We believe Smart Money Cymru has a key leadership role to play in supporting the credit union movement to respond to the financial needs of local communities in the fast-changing world of financial services. We are excited that Newport Credit Union will hopefully soon join us to expand our reach and services in the coming years.”

The culture, premises and full complement of staff at Newport will be retained, he added.

Reg Smith, chair of Newport Credit Union, said: “We’re excited at the prospect of joining forces with Smart Money Cymru Community Bank which will create one of the leading credit unions in Wales. We are firmly on track to put our plans to the membership in early 2024, and it being 25 years since we started the union in Newport, this seems a fitting way to celebrate our achievements.

“For both organisations, our members are at the heart of everything we do, and this opportunity would enable us to deliver the elevated financial services members expect while also growing our collective reach and deepening our impact.”