Credit unions must grab media agenda

The very welcome news that the Archbishop of Canterbury wanted to support credit unions was not a surprise - we have had a number of discussions with the Church of England about how it can best support the sector.

Abbie Shelton: Association of British Credit Unions
Abbie Shelton: Association of British Credit Unions

We were not, however, expecting his challenge to Wonga to be one of the lead news items of the day. Most of the messages we did our best to get across during this hectic period were no different from the ones we aim to promote on a day-to-day basis.

Ensuring the broad range of services credit unions provide is reflected in media coverage can be a challenge in a sector well known for being an alternative to high-cost lenders.

Credit unions pride themselves on providing affordable services to people on lower incomes. But this risks masking the fact that they can provide great value for larger loans and savings as well, and that some of the largest serve groups such as the police.

Many credit unions do help members away from payday lenders - but they do this by offering affordable alternatives spread over a longer time and helping people to better manage their money.

The support offered by the Church of England is wide-ranging but the focus of the media often tended to be on credit unions setting up shop in church halls. While all support is welcome, this is not an image that reflects the majority of credit unions. We were able to counter this because many of our members were happy to host film crews at very short notice and attractive high street premises appeared on all the news bulletins.

Maintaining the high profile that the Archbishop's intervention brought will be challenging but this is a great problem for a small and ambitious sector to have. Not all the messages the public heard in the days after the story broke were accurate, but we have gained a great insight into what messages we need to concentrate on promoting.

The Archbishop has helped to boost the profile of our sector and we look forward to working with the Church to make the most of this awareness.

Abbie Shelton is policy and comms manager for the Association of British Credit Unions

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