Each anniversary is a good occasion for a summary. It is no different for the 30th anniversary of the Cooperative Savings and Credit Unions sector, which is celebrated this year in Poland. It is therefore worth taking a moment to look at how the Polish Credit Unions (so called SKOKs) product offer changed over the years.
The basic task of the Unions, first of all defined by law, is to satisfy the financial needs of their members in the scope of: collecting funds, granting them loans and credits, conducting financial settlements and distributing insurance.
No wonder that initially the offer of credit unions mainly included savings and checking accounts, deposits, loans and credits. Among these products, loans and credits were of particular importance, as the lack of availability of these products in commercial financial institutions was a significant problem for a part of Polish society. Thus, Credit Unions combined, and still combine, the economic aspect of their activity with the social aspect, counteracting usury and financial exclusion.
To fight against the aforementioned financial exclusion, as well as the social exclusion resulting from it, Polish SKOKs needed to provide their members not only access to basic financial services, but to their full spectrum. Hence, very quickly, the range of products offered by CUs’ was expanded, for example, with insurance – both property insurance and life insurance. However, credit unions continued to strive to enrich their offer even more.
Today, the standard in most Polish Unions is therefore access to the account via the Internet, both using websites and through dedicated mobile applications. All these channels allow not only to gain access to the history of operations on the account or order a transfer, but also to manage transaction limits or block a debit card.
Speaking of debit cards, many SKOKs offer a multi-currency payment card. Its advantage is the ability to make payments abroad without a currency conversion fee. Importantly, one doesn’t need a separate foreign currency account to use such card.
It is very important that the card is made of 82% biodegradable materials. A member is always at the center of interest of Credit Unions. This also means caring for the environment in which CUs’ members live. That is why SKOKs are looking for innovative ways to take care of this environment. It’s worth to mention, that the of eco-friendly card introduced by Polish Unions was the first of its kind in Poland.
Speaking of innovations, it is also worth mentioning that Polish Credit Unions are institutions that successfully implement modern tools to simplify online payments. Some of these solutions are not, at the time of writing this article, available even in some of the largest commercial banks in Poland. Also, people making cashless transactions in stationary stores do not have to use “plastic”. The card offered by CUs can be added to one of the popular virtual wallets and thus can be used to pay by phone.
The card issued by SKOK system offers its users two more interesting possibilities. The first is a service that allows members to withdraw a certain amount of cash in the store when paying by card. This is very helpful when there is no ATM or SKOK branch nearby.
The second option is the so-called chargeback. Thanks to it, card users can recover money for goods or services for which they paid for with a debit card and which they did not receive. For example, when a seller or supplier went bankrupt, out of business, or was simply a fraud. If the complaint procedure is unsuccessful, card users can apply for a refund from the card issuer.
Striving for innovation, SKOKs do not forget about their roots and the core of their offer. Responding to the needs of members, some of the Credit Unions have recently expanded their offer of loans and credits to include products with a fixed interest rate. Thanks to this, they protect their members against the adverse effects of an increase in interest rates.
Credit Unions are also entities that traditionally try to offer their members the best possible interest rates on deposits, thus mitigating the effects of high inflation.
CUs also make sure that the pursuit of modernity does not become another reason for exclusion. Despite the increase in popularity of the Internet related communication tools, there are still people in Poland who do not feel comfortable in this digital world. SKOKs remember about these people and their needs. They are also aware that even for people skilled in new technologies, it may be important to be able to settle some matters directly with another human being – a branch employee. That is why CUs constantly train their employees and improve the quality of customer service in their branches.
Therefore, Polish Credit Unions are institutions that in a best possible way combine the commitment to traditional values with the pursuit of sustainable development and openness to new technologies. A practical expression of these aspirations is a wide range of products, both traditional ones (e.g. accounts, deposits and loans), as well as modern, non-cash financial services provided via Internet.