Editor's Choice Europe Fintech for Good

How Great Western Credit Union is Helping People Access Ethical Finance Anywhere, Anytime

With many bank branches unable to open during the pandemic, financial institutions across the UK had to adapt their services and one of the main consequences was the exponential growth in online banking

One believer that digital transformation will play a key role in the financial landscape post lockdown is James Berry, CEO of Great Western Credit Union. James has led the credit union since 2007 and is responsible for growing memberships from c1,200 to c20,000 in August 2021. Over the past year, James navigated the merger between the former Bristol Credit Union and Wyvern Savings and Loans in Dorset, creating the biggest credit union in South West England. 

James is passionate about the growth of the credit union, which gives people access to low-cost loans and saving plans to serve the local community. In this article, he explains how digital transformation will help the credit union to further improve the financial wellbeing of people across the region. 

James Berry, CEO, Great Western Credit Union

In what has been a difficult time for many people across the UK, the pandemic has accelerated changes that were already progressing before March 2020. Whereas before the lockdowns, many people would have travelled to their nearest branch to access their finances, social distancing restrictions made it more difficult for people to do so. 

A recent report from the UK Parliament discovered that the number of bank branches roughly halved between 1986 and 2014. The same report cites that around 10% of the rural population lives at least 10 miles from their closest banking branch, leaving thousands without face-to-face access to finances. Whilst there are examples of otherwise profitable branches being closed, it’s more noticeable than ever that the changing customer behaviour is driving this trend and the traditional bank branch is more and more a thing of the past.

The rising demand for fintech 

In a world of increasing dependence on technology, people across the UK are switching to digital banking for a faster and more efficient customer experience from their financial providers. For example, a recent study by SRM Europe’s Customer Loyalty research found that 73% of the country’s population has now moved to online banking. 

Through this digitisation, there is no longer a need to set up an account based on your location, but instead you can choose an institution that reflects your values, beliefs and ambitions. Other financial institutions now have the chance to compete with high-street banks, allowing consumers to find greener, fairer and more ethical services. 

Making ethical finance more accessible 

Alongside growth in digital channels for traditional and challenger banks as well as the fintech start-ups, many credit unions, such as Great Western Credit Union, are continuing to evolve and meet their members’ needs through the use of innovative technology. Recent findings from the Bank of England have shown that credit unions have continued to grow in popularity, serving around two million people across the UK, with assets worth almost £4 billion. 

We have found that people want to see their money doing good, especially following the ravages of COVID-19 which has widened the wealth divide. Credit unions provide a sense of financial community, knowing that the money saved or spent through them is used to help local people, businesses and economies to thrive. 

Our recent Social Impact Report found that almost 3,400 new loans were made in the 2019-2020 financial year and 24% of loan members lived in areas with the highest levels of deprivation. Since our digital platform went live, we have been able to reach more people than ever before across our region as they are no longer bound by location. 

In 2019, we secured financial investment from Bristol City Council, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Bank Workers Charity and the Co-op Loan Fund to enhance the credit union’s growth and development. Some of this money was invested in upgrading our digital capabilities, including back-end improvements to enhance customer experiences and accessibility. For new registrations, it can take as little as 20 minutes for an application to be approved. Even face-to-face service can now be delivered online through video chat.

The evolution of fintech allows people to be more in control of their finances, at any place and anytime, making fairer and affordable finance more accessible than ever before. 

As a key aspect of our future expansions, digital transformation will help us to realise our ambitions of becoming the first choice for ethical and affordable finance in the region. Over the next five years, we will continue to improve the financial stability of people in our communities by providing them with the tools and services that will make a real difference to their financial wellbeing. 


  • Polly is a journalist, content creator and general opinion holder from North Wales. She has written for a number of publications, usually hovering around the topics of fintech, tech, lifestyle and body positivity.

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