THE PURPOSE OF THE CENTRE

Why we exist

For nearly two hundred years, co-operative and other community-based financial institutions have provided financial services to European citizens and small businesses with the prime objective of delivering social and economic benefit to the people they serve, rather than creating private wealth for third-party investors. They have endured with varying degrees of success – in some countries becoming major providers of financial services and, in others, relatively minor participants in the social economy.

There are few independent, not-for-profit research organisations dedicated to developing the resilience and growth of these organisations, and none – until now – focused in particular on credit unions in Ireland or Great Britain. There has been a gap in the provision of research that helps credit unions and other community finance providers identify and adopt new services, better engage communities, improve business practices, protect values, reduce risk and collaborate for the common good.

So that is why this Centre was launched in 2017.

What we do

The Centre’s focus is on the practical realities of delivering financial services such as loans, savings and insurance on an ethical and socially beneficial basis to individuals and micro- to medium-sized enterprises. Our research addresses strategic and tactical/operational issues of sustainability, such as corporate governance, business strategy, product/service development and risk management.

The Centre undertakes research across Europe, informed by experience and knowledge from around the world, but aimed at local solutions.

The Centre also offers training and advisory services, delivering actionable guidance to organisations, practitioners and national and local government policymakers.

Renaming the Centre

In memorial to the Centre’s co-founder, first chair and driving force, Ralph Swoboda, the Centre was re-named the Swoboda Research Centre on 18 November 2021. More information about Ralph’s contribution to credit unions and the Centre is presented below.

BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Caroline Domanski MBE became a Director of Swoboda in January 2020 and was made Chair in October 2021.

Caroline was appointed CEO of No1 CopperPot Credit Union in 2015, and has had an extensive career in credit unions spanning 17 years. No1 CopperPot is one of the largest credit unions in the UK, with over £150 million in assets and 36,000 members.

As an executive director at CopperPot, Caroline’s main focus is on the strategic drivers of the business. Working alongside the Board to drive change which ensures the credit union remains forward thinking with a member-centric approach. Caroline regularly represents credit unions throughout the wider mutual movement, raising the profile of the industry and ensuring that credit unions are seen as a sustainable part of the financial services system within the UK. Caroline currently holds a representative seat at the Trade Bodies Round Table and newly formed Trade Associations Cyber Information Group.

Caroline was awarded the UK’s National Young Leader of the Year Award in 2012 and awarded the World Council’s Young Credit Union Person (WYCUP) scholarship in 2013 and has recently completed the BSA’s MSc programme with Loughborough University.

Stephen Fealy became a Director of Swoboda in March 2023.

Stephen was appointed Chief Financial Officer of Dundalk Credit Union Ltd in 2018 having held various senior roles with a number of large Irish credit unions. Stephen also worked for a period with CUDA, the Credit Union Development Association, and was involved in developing and implementing the first outsourced risk management solutions for the Irish sector.

Stephen is a qualified accountant, specialising in strategic finance, strategic risk management and data analytics. Stephen is in the final stages of an Executive MBA with Dublin City University and has also completed a number of data analytics programmes at Dundalk Institute of Technology and Trinity College Dublin.

Dundalk Credit Union is one of Ireland’s largest community credit unions with almost €350m in assets, serving 50,000 members in the Northeast of Ireland.

Patrick Heaphy became a Director of Swoboda in March 2023.

Patrick is the CEO of Youghal Credit Union Ltd, which serves over 16,500 members in the Youghal area in Counties Cork and Waterford. Patrick became CEO in 2020 and in that time Youghal Credit Union has grown its assets to €130m as well as introducing mortgages, current accounts, online services and more.

Patrick is a Chartered Accountant by trade and previously worked for PwC and Musgrave Group before joining Youghal Credit Union as CFO in 2017. Patrick was a volunteer and a Director of Youghal Credit Union prior to joining the management team as CFO.

Patrick has many other qualifications including a Postgraduate Diploma in Leadership and a Postgraduate Diploma in Risk Management, Compliance, and Internal Audit.

Samantha Homer, CA, became a Director of Swoboda in March 2023.

Samantha is the Director of Finance & Compliance / Deputy CEO of Capital Credit Union Ltd, based in Edinburgh. Capital has a membership of over 25,000 throughout the East Coast of Scotland and assets of £45m. Capital offers a wide range of services to its members, including mortgages.

Samantha has been a fully qualified Chartered Accountant for over 12 years, with a background in the insurance and reinsurance sector of the financial services industry, prior to joining the credit union. She has a wealth of experience leading finance functions, including ensuring compliance with strict regulations. Samantha’s focus is to continuously improve systems and controls and to ensure that the processes in place are robust and efficient; whilst scrutinising the financial information.

Dr Paul A. Jones was a founding Director of Swoboda in 2016, and is Director of Research.

Paul is a Reader in the Social Economy at Liverpool John Moores University, where he heads up the Research Unit for Financial Inclusion. He is also visiting lecturer in the social economy at the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague. Paul has had over twenty-five years’ experience in academic, action and evaluative research in credit union organisational development, financial services for lower and moderate-income households, and money and debt advice services.

The subjects of Paul’s research studies have included widening access to community finance in London, credit union strengthening in the UK and Romania, credit union governance (for the UK Government), access to affordable credit in Europe (for the European Commission), and credit union engagement with prisons (for the UK Ministry of Justice). Paul is also a frequent speaker at international credit union and co-operative events throughout Europe. He was the Editor of the Journal of Co-operative Studies from 2006 to 2015, and is currently its Deputy Editor. Paul is a director of Enterprise Credit Union and chairs the Audit and Risk Committee at Manchester Credit Union.

Contact Paul: p.a.jones@ljmu.ac.uk

Colm Lawless became a Director of Swoboda in March 2023.

Colm is Chairman of Heritage Credit Union Ltd, which serves over 53,000 members on the north and southside of Dublin. Heritage is a rapidly expanding Credit Union, with 11 branches and one of the largest asset sizes in Ireland, at approximately €230million.

Colm was elected to the Board of Directors for the Irish League of Credit Unions in 2023, at the age of 30. Colm is a public affairs veteran and has served in a variety of senior advisory roles at the heart of the Irish Government, in the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) and in Westminster. He has advised a Tánaiste (deputy Prime Minister) and three Irish government Ministers over the past decade. In addition, he has served as Public Policy Manager, Ireland for one of the largest tech companies in the world.

Colm has a particular interest in health, technology, and financial inclusion policy. He also volunteers with CHAMP, an Irish- British body established to promote reconciliation in Northern Ireland and cement east-west relaConships.

Colm is passionate about building the profile of Swoboda in the eyes of policymakers and to strengthening the advocacy potential of the credit union and financial co-operatives sector.

In his spare time, Colm volunteers as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and is an avid music and rugby fan.

Nick Money was a founding Director of Swoboda in 2016, and is Director of Development.

Nick is an independent management consultant to co-operative and not-for-profit enterprises. Since 2011, Nick has built a practice specialising in advising executives and boards on governance, strategy and business development. Nick is an associate with the Research Unit for Financial Inclusion at Liverpool John Moores University. He is also a consultancy project supervisor for students on the MBA programme at the Alliance Manchester Business School.

Prior to consultancy, Nick worked in a variety of head of function and managerial roles at The Co-operative Bank plc, in particular in business strategy and planning, business change and marketing. Nick is an honorary Life President at Co-operative Credit Union, Director of South Manchester Credit Union, and a former member of the Co-operative Governance Expert Reference Panel of the trade body Co-operatives UK.

Contact Nick: nick.money@swobodacentre.org

RALPH SWOBODA, 1948-2021

Ralph Swoboda was this research centre’s co-founder, its first chair and its intellectual driving force. Prior to his untimely death in September 2021, his long career had made him a prominent figure in the credit union movement around the world, and in particular the US, Great Britain and Ireland, where he was a friend, mentor and colleague of very many credit union activists. Tributes to Ralph at the Centre’s Credit Union Conference on 24th September 2021 can be viewed here, and an obituary in Co-op News here.

Ralph believed with a passion in the value and benefits that credit unions can bring to individuals, families and communities everywhere. From his youth, his life was immersed in credit unions, whether as president/CEO of Credit Union National Association in the US, as head of international operations for CUNA Mutual Group, as chair of the management committee of the Association of British Credit Unions Ltd or as founder of Credit Union Financial Analytics (CUFA Ltd) with Declan Mooney and Pintu Jacob. He was also a founding member of the Filene Research Institute in the US and led major credit union development projects in China, Australia and Poland.

To credit union people in Ireland and Britain, Ralph was a particular inspiration and a catalyst for change and transformation in the credit union sector. From 2013 to 2021, Ralph had made his home in Ireland. He loved the country and found himself to be an Irishman at heart with all his Irish friends and colleagues. But by the time, Ralph arrived in the country, the esteemed and well-loved Irish credit union movement was struggling to remain relevant to contemporary Irish society and lend sufficiently to assure its economic viability. Ralph spotted the problems and the Centre launched its inaugural report in December 2017: ‘The Irish Credit Union Business Model: Is it still Fit for Purpose?’. In this report, Ralph and his colleagues articulated the challenges facing Irish credit unions today, many of which have been taken up by credit unions throughout Ireland.

Many years before, in 1996, Ralph arrived in Britain from the US on an expedition to find out why, unlike the Irish credit union movement, the British movement was going nowhere. At the time, even after 10 years of development, credit unions were lucky to have just a few hundred members. It was Ralph who saw clearly the problem that the then current British credit union business model was certainly not fit for purpose and that British legislation was the most restrictive in the world. He drove and inspired the seminal research, ‘Towards sustainable credit union development’, written by Dr Paul A. Jones, now the Centre’s Director of Research, in 1999. Ralph challenged the then leaders of many small British credit unions to professionalise their businesses and modernise methods of savings and loans to compete effectively with other financial services businesses on the high street.

This Centre is his legacy to Irish and British credit unions. The directors, staff and members are committed, in his honour, to ensure that the institution works effectively for the credit union sector in Ireland and Britain, and the Centre was renamed in his memory on 18th November 2021.

RESEARCH ADVISORY BOARD

The Research Advisory Board advises the Centre on its research methodology, standards and quality, and oversees peer review of the Centre’s publications. Its members are distinguished academic and professional experts who have demonstrated qualifications in specialist areas relevant to the Centre’s work.

Current members of the Advisory Board:

  • Roger Marsh, Bank of England (Retired)