A brief history of credit unions

The credit union (CU) movement can trace its history back to 1894 when The First Savings Bank was founded in Tottenham. The seeds of the cooperative movement were planted in 1844 when a group of Lancashire weavers founded The Rochdale Pioneers. Their principles included a voluntary and open membership, one member one vote and the return of profits to members in proportion to their purchases – which are still the principles of the current cooperative movement.

Between 1844 and c1900, the primary growth of the movement took place in Europe, especially in Germany and Italy. In 1908, the first US CU was formed in Massachusetts. In 1934 President Roosevelt signed the Federal Credit Union Act. A year later CUNA Mutual Assurance was founded in Wisconsin.

The 1960s saw significant growth in the CU movement in Great Britain and the Derry City Credit Union was formed in 1960 as the first CU in Northern Ireland. In 1961, the Wimbledon Credit Union Study Group was formed to examine ways for the CU movement to be given legislative protection and following on from this, the Wimbledon Credit Union was incorporated in 1964 under the Companies Act.

In 1971, The Crowther Report on Consumer Credit paved the way for the eventual CU legislation. Throughout the 1970s many new CUs were formed in England including the first employee CU – The Pitney Bowes Credit Union. A Government White paper in 1976 outlined the legislation required to license and supervise deposit-taking institutions and this was finally followed in 1979 when Royal Assent was given to The Credit Union Act. Today this is still the legislation that governs all CUs. At that time there were 10 registered CUs in operation and 40 unregistered ones.

The movement continued to grow in the 1980s and 1990s and by 1990 there were 258 registered CUs in GB with combined assets of c£12.3m. In 1981, the Credit Union League of Great Britain changed its name to the Association of British Credit Unions Ltd (ABCUL). This trade body still exists today and Thamesbank is one of its members.

In 2002, the Financial Services Authority became the new regulator for CUs taking over from the Registry of Friendly Societies.

Finally, in 2005, Thamesbank was founded under its original name of ‘The London Borough of Hounslow Employees Credit Union’. As its common bond increased, it changed its name to the current ‘Thamesbank Credit Union’ in 2007.