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Community bank completes merger to safeguard its future

MERGING with a neighbouring organisation will preserve the future for a community bank which helps prevent 3,000 members in Milton Keynes and Buckinghamshire going to pay day lenders and loan sharks.

Swan Community Bank, which also serves Oxfordshire, has completed its merger with Wiltshire and Swindon Credit Union in Wiltshire and Swindon and now operates under the name of Acorn Community Bank.

Community banks, also known as credit unions, are owned by their members and run on their behalf. They provide affordable loans for people unable to secure credit elsewhere to prevent them from going to payday loan companies or loan sharks. Members open savings accounts and, provided they meet loan criteria, can take out loans which are repaid monthly.

Swan board chair Steve Eyre pictured left, who helped found Swan in 2010, said uncertainty over the future of its outsourced IT system meant it had to find another partner to be sure of surviving. “We have needed to modernise our back office for a long time but it has been extremely difficult and it has hampered our operation,” he said.

WASCU was one of several credit unions approached by Swan to discuss a potential merger. “The more we talked, the better it looked and we settled on this being our preferred option from fairly on in the process really,” said Mr Eyre, who retired from his post at the end of March.

“If we did not do this I do not see how we would survive. We have been straight with members about this in meetings we have held with them. It was absolutely essential for us.”

Mr Eyre said the merger is a good fit for Swan and its members. “It is of a similar size, a community based credit union with shared values and clearly a team that is doing well,” he said. “They have an IT system that works well and equips them for expansion. They provide excellent service to their members, and that’s a big attraction.”

Swan was formed from the merger of two credit unions Milton Keynes and Aylesbury . It merged with Oxfordshire Credit Union in 2021. Three members of staff and two directors, including treasurer Philip Turnbull, have joined the Acorn Community Bank.

Mr Eyre said: “Everything will remain the same for our members. All of the directors are volunteers who are here to try and help people who need to be helped. They want to, in whatever form, be able to carry on doing that.”

Swan’s average loan is between £700 and £800 and most are used by people who struggle to get credit at high street banks for emergencies such as car repairs or replacement of white goods. Acorn will provide services in Swindon, Reading, Oxford, and Milton Keynes as well as Wiltshire, Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

Acorn Community Bank chair Nick Gallop said the merger will mean it doubles in size. “It will allow us to benefit from economies of scale and gives us new opportunities to grow,” he said.

Last year Acorn invested in a new IT system to modernise its systems and introduce new loans and has already introduced a simple banking app. New types of lending will follow.

Mr Gallop said: “Everyone who has an account with Swan will maintain the same kind of account under the same terms – we will not be forcing changes on anyone. The merger will also allow us to exploit the potential of our new IT system.

“We are excited about our new technology and the merger. These take us to a new level and allow us to provide better, flexible and accessible services without losing the personal touch that has been a lifeline to so many people. While we are growing, we want to keep the community focus that sets us apart.”

Main picture: Pictured (l-r) Acorn Community Bank’s member services manager Gemma Sadler; operations manager Bridget Shone; general manager Clive Henley, marketing and communications officer Phoebe Fernandes; loans officer Amy Haines.

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