For nearly two hundred years, co-operative and 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.

Many of these institutions emerged from social movements connected by shared philosophies of mutuality and co-operation, such as credit unions, building societies and co-operative banks. 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.

In recent years, European policy-makers have come to see these organisations as key actors in meeting the challenge of social and financial inclusion, and, particularly since the banking crash of 2008, as consumer-friendly, stable counterweights to the risk and volatility of investor-owned banks and financial firms.

Yet, until now, there has been no independent research organisation in Europe solely aimed at developing the resilience and growth of these organisations – by helping them identify and adopt new services, better engage communities, improve business practices, protect values, reduce risk and collaborate for the common good.

So, the Centre for Community Finance Europe!

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.

Research subjects include co-operatives and mutuals (such as credit unions and building societies), social enterprises (such as the UK’s Community Development Finance Institutions), and co-operative banks, as well as social businesses in other sectors that engage with community finance (such as housing associations that seek affordable credit for residents). 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.

The research programme is agreed in consultation with members.