A bold initiative to make Blaenau Gwent the first ‘Credit Union County’ in Wales is underway.
The plan is to encourage residents to make more use of their local Community Bank as the main financial institutions continue to close their doors and retreat from communities.
With that in mind, Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council (BGCBC) and Smart Money Cymru Community Bank have teamed up to spread the word that high quality banking is available to everyone in the area.
Smart Money already has a strong presence in the County with 1600 members, and Chief Executive Mark White is confident this can be increased considerably, especially in the present climate. “Our vision is to provide people in Wales with accessible, fair and affordable financial services and have linked up with Blaenau Gwent Council to encourage people in the County to join us,” he said.
In the next three years the target for the County is to add over 700 new Members, and sign up at least 18 employers on the Payroll Saving scheme.  New banking hubs have been set up at Ebbw Vale Institute and Ebenezer Chapel in Abertillery and four more are planned at strategic locations, as well as a network of school savings clubs.
Terri Short of Smart Money Cymru has been appointed Blaenau Gwent Development Officer and is based at the Community Bank’s Tredegar branch. “Smart Money Cymru has much to offer in terms of financial services, and my role is to make people in Blaenau Gwent aware of this, working with the County Council and other bodies,” she said.
“In partnership with Blaenau Gwent County Council we are aiming to establish the first Credit Union County and for this to serve as a model for others to follow.”
Smart Money Cymru offers savings accounts with an annual dividend, loans of up to £15,000, the ability to pay benefits directly into accounts, and plans are well advanced to launch a debit card. Community groups, charities and social enterprises are also catered for, she added.
“We want Blaenau Gwent residents to realise that we can offer banking with sophisticated financial products, and that we are welcoming and supportive. I would advise anyone in the area who is interested to pay us a visit at our Tredegar branch or online,” she said.
Members can use the Smart Money Cymru branch network which serves 11,000 members in South and Mid Wales covering Tredegar, Caerphilly, Blackwood, Aberdare, Brecon and Llandrindod Wells.
In recent years Smart Money Cymru has outperformed the credit union sector in the UK and completed two mergers resulting in significant efficiencies. As one of the leading Community Banks in Wales, it is forging a path of digitising and upgrading its technology with support from Welsh Government. “Community Banking and the Credit Union Movement are becoming more important in people’s everyday lives as traditional banking retreats from localities and financial decisions are based on credit scores and is data-driven,” said Mr White.
“We believe in offering a personal service and looking at a wider range of factors when we make a loan or other decisions,” he added. “We aim to treat Members in a fair and reasonable way and take a long term view, which is very different to the clinical approach of the High Street banks.
“An important difference between us and them is that we exist for the benefit of Members and profits are recycled, whereas Banks have to make a return for their shareholders.”
Councillor John Morgan, Blaenau Gwent Cabinet Member for Regeneration said the Council was delighted to support the Credit Union Movement and Community Banking in the County and wished Smart Money Cymru every success.