The following post is provided by the Association of British Credit Unions Ltd. (ABCUL), World Council's direct member organization in the United Kingdom.
From the outset the pandemic, there was a willingness among the Board of Directors and staff of LASER Credit Union, based in Rotherham, that they should stay open in order to serve its most vulnerable members.
“These members rely on us for cash withdrawals, crisis loans and LASER loans in the main. Whilst remaining open we were acutely aware of the need to ensure the health and safety of staff and customers,” said LASER Manager Karen O’Reilly. “At the same time, we also identified a need to reduce foot traffic in our offices to a minimum. We proactively contacted all members who came to LASER for cash and, for those members who had the capability, we quickly set up alternative arrangements by setting up bank accounts for BACS or the Engage card.”
Following government advice to make sure staffers were completely safe, LASER was fortunate that its office was COVID-19 ready. A cashier’s area is already fitted with perspex screens and office space with desks 2 metres apart and back to back. The credit union also introduced a system of serving one member in the premises at a time from the perspex protected cashiers' area while monitoring foot traffic, and continue to do so.
While staff was able to service existing members, the problem was how they could service new members. Member applications could be done on its website, but thereafter the process was face-to-face. In response to this, LASER implemented a new digital tool, using Viva IT, which allows for paperless processing of new membership accounts and loans.
The credit union is now a partner in a Rotherham Council-funded contract, offering crisis support to those most vulnerable alongside Voluntary Action Rotherham and FairShare Yorkshire, offering interest-free Crisis Loans for those in need in Rotherham.
“LASER is a valuable partner in Rotherham serving many of the most vulnerable people. Their work with the Council and other local organisations to provide crisis support is highly regarded. That they have kept open their full range of services during the COVID emergency is a testament to their commitment and the value of a local credit union," said a representative of the Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council.
“It has been hugely important that we stayed open to service the most vulnerable and financially excluded with Crisis Loans," said Karen O'Reilly. "Throughout all of this, the Board and staff have worked tirelessly. The Board has met weekly with me using Zoom and we set up an emergency director team to make decisions quickly. I’m incredibly proud of what we have achieved as a small team, looking after each other and our members.”
"Credit unions across the country have gone above and beyond to support members through the pandemic and LASER Credit Union is another shining example of this," said ABCUL Chief Executive Robert Kelly. "Despite the ongoing problems that the COVID-19 crisis forces on our communities, it is fantastic to see credit unions like LASER grasp it as an opportunity to enhance their services and maintain our ethos of people helping people. Each and every staff member and board member should be proud of what they’ve achieved."