New CUSO of the Year 2021 Award Winner:
Ireland’s credit unions are numerous but small. After the financial crisis in 2008, scores of credit unions were insolvent but there were no powers to solve the problem. There were no rules regarding mergers or collaboration. The University of Cork hosts a credit union symposium each year. In 2012, Guy Messick was invited to speak to the Irish credit unions about the use of CUSOs in the United States. Guy invited Ray Crouse, Kirk Drake, Jeff Russell, and Mark Zook to join him and share their lessons learned. In 2016, Guy was invited back to speak.
Despite the obstacles, some credit union thought leaders knew that collaboration business models were the lifeline the Irish credit unions needed to survive. They planned a CUSO that provided payment services, but they first had to obtain the legal authority to do so. Changing the law was not practical but finding a way to interpret powers within the existing law was worth a try. They spent 18 months working closely with the credit union regulator to add CUSO powers under the “Additional Powers” section of the credit union law. Next, the organizers needed to acclimate credit unions to the collaboration model. They distributed Guy Messick’s book “Credit Union Collaborations: Lessons Learned” to credit unions to communicate the mindset and expectations for successful collaborations.
Payac was formed by six credit union investors. Payac now has over fifty credit union customers. Payac is the first CUSO in Ireland with direct credit union investment. Payac provides payment accounts to enable credit unions to use debit cards, checking accounts, check clearing and a host of back office support services such as regulatory support, training, marketing, analytics, call center, reconciliation, fraud management, and vendor management. Through common governance, standardization, and scale, Irish credit unions are now able to offer additional services and enjoy reduced prices and preferred service from vendors. The credit unions now have access to large vendors as FIS MasterCard. For the first time, Irish credit unions are earning fee income through the payment services.
Each credit union owner has an equal ownership share but users of a service have weighted voting regarding the services. Profits are reinvested in services. Payac is a CUSO pioneer that is transformational. It has created the powers, culture, and example for Irish credit unions to leverage the powers and potential of collaboration.
Although pandemic travel restrictions prevented Payac from being able to accept the award on the NACUSO stage, Barry Feeney, Payac CFO, expressed their gratitude virtually through this acceptance video:
2021 New CUSO of the Year – Honorable Mentions:
As more commerce is conducted on digital platforms, Fintechs have grown exponentially. Many Fintechs are competitors of financial institutions but some wish to partner with financial institutions. Banks have invested heavily in Fintechs, participated on the Fintech boards, and shaped the Fintechs to better serve banks. Credit unions do not have that level of influence. The amounts they can invest are more modest and the investment turn around time is much too long, disjointed, and undisciplined for the Fintechs.
Enter Culql Collective. In order to have an impact in the marketplace, there must be a significant fund to make investments that is run by experienced professionals who make timely decisions. The investments must be financially prudent with strategic objectives. The strategic objectives are (1) to find service providers that offer value to credit unions and (2) to have influence over the direction of the Fintech to preserve and expand the value, i.e., board representation.
Cirql was extremely successful in obtaining investment capital. Their first subscription amount will be $250 million. Due to the high interest by credit unions, a second round of funding is expected to be offered in the future. The Curql Fund is managed by a profession fund manager. The Cirql Collective is the CUSO that makes the Fintech investment decisions from the Cirql Fund. All investors have an equal vote regardless of the amount of their investment.
Cirql is also transformational. For the first time, credit unions are credible players in the Fintech investment world. This will dramatically increase the ability of credit unions to influence Fintechs to better serve them. Since all Fintechs have to primarily serve credit unions in order to accept the Cirql investments, the Fintechs will become CUSOs or form associated CUSOs, which ties them closer to the credit union culture. The success of credit unions in today’s world requires the use of the latest technology that is mostly developed outside of credit unions. By forging closer partnerships with the technology innovators, Cirql is providing the means for credit unions to stay relevant in the lives of their members.
The Nymbus business model is to provide the technology suite of services credit unions need to serve specific member segments and the expertise to implement the technology and services. For example, a credit union may want to serve a specific ethnic group but needs the technology and people skills that are different than the credit union currently offers. Rather than try to modify the current technology and services of the entire credit union, the credit union creates a “division” that runs in parallel with the main technology and services. The credit union may dedicate its employees to run the division, or the operation may be outsourced to Nymbus. The credit union division concept may also arise when a merger occurs, and the credit union wants to keep the brand of the merged credit union to serve the members of the merged credit union. As the division is part of one credit union, the general ledgers communicate with each other to have a unified reporting of the credit union’s financials. In time, a credit union may elect to use Nymbus for all its core technology needs.
Nymbus uses a collaborative business model to leverage technology and personnel to give credit unions the tools to customize services to their members and remain an effective competitor in the financial marketplace. Nymbus has the potential to be a game changer in the credit union industry.