There are currently 16 actively functioning Credit Unions in St Lucia. With approximately 92,000 members and an estimated asset base valuated at almost $800 million EC, Credit Unions play a significant role in the day to day lives of hard-working St Lucians today.
The Credit Union is a form of savings and loans that developed in the late 19th century out of several traditional ideas and practices. They are member-based organizations that evolved out of the practice of community self-help by working-class people relying on each other to survive economically, alongside the formation of “friendly societies” or “co-operative societies” by Christian groups.
Members would pool their resources together to raise funds for a business or take care of some other pressing financial need on the part of the individual. The first successful Credit Union was the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers founded in 1844.
Caribbean people already had different forms of informal co-operative systems for personal saving. In St Lucia, the “sou-sou” is a form of this type of informal loans and savings club. The Flower Societies of La Rose and La Marguerite and Mothers and Fathers groups were also important foundations for the Credit Unions that got started in St Lucia.
As late as the 1960s, it was almost impossible for a Saint Lucian worker of modest means to get a loan from the few foreign-based multi-national banks that existed on the island at the time. Loans for purchasing land, buying farming equipment, a home or start a business were out of the realm of possibility for working people who did not have the requisite capital.
By 1977 the rapid growth in the popularity of credit Unions led to the establishing of the St Lucia Co-operative Credit Union League Ltd to serve the credit unions and co-operatives of Saint Lucia. Since then, the League has evolved to serve as a regulatory body for the Credit Unions at exist, and to provide additional assistance that the Unions may need.
Although rooted in habits of prudent self-help by working-class people and in a Christian alternative to the banking system, many of today’s Credit Unions have started to branch off into speculative investments that put the savings of their members at risk. However, most Credit Unions around the world are still guided by the Rochdale Principles of Co-operation, which include:
Voluntary and Open Membership
Democratic Member Control
Member Economic Participation
Autonomy and Independence
Education, Training, and Information
Co-operation Among Co-operatives
Concern for Community