Celebrating 75 years of credit unions: a brief history

International Credit Union Day (ICU Day), celebrated on October 19, 2023, marks the culmination of our 75-year journey within the credit union movement. This day serves as a global platform, fostering awareness of the incredible work undertaken by credit unions and financial cooperatives worldwide. It also provides our members with a unique opportunity to become more engaged.

The roots of the credit union movement extend back to 1894, with the establishment of The First Savings Bank in Tottenham. Even earlier, in 1844, The Rochdale Pioneers, a collective of Lancashire weavers, sowed the seeds of cooperative values. These principles, including voluntary membership, one member one vote, and profit-sharing, remain the foundation of today’s cooperative movement.

As we reflect on the journey of the credit union movement, it’s evident how these principles have endured and evolved. In 1934, President Roosevelt signed the Federal Credit Union Act, laying the groundwork for the movement’s expansion in the United States. The UK, too, witnessed significant growth, with the formation of the Derry City Credit Union in Northern Ireland during the 1960s.

The 1970s marked the birth of numerous credit unions in England, including the pioneering employee credit union, The Pitney Bowes Credit Union. In 1979, The Credit Union Act was enacted, the very legislation that continues to govern credit unions today.

Subsequent decades, particularly the 1980s and 1990s, saw sustained growth, with 258 registered credit unions in Great Britain by 1990, boasting combined assets of approximately £12.3 million. The transformation of the Credit Union League of Great Britain into the Association of British Credit Unions Ltd (ABCUL) in 1981 was another significant milestone, a body to which Thamesbank proudly belongs.

In 2002, the Financial Services Authority assumed the role of regulator for credit unions, succeeding the Registry of Friendly Societies. This change marked a crucial moment in the movement’s history.

Today, as we celebrate International Credit Union Day, we remain steadfast in our commitment to the financial well-being of our members. Our dedication to providing financial education and support remains unwavering, and we eagerly anticipate future growth and assistance. The history of the credit union movement is a testament to the enduring strength of cooperation and financial inclusion.