Minister of Public Utilities, Robert Le Hunte, yesterday encouraged the Credit Union Movement to help the Government and the country in making “the required paradigm shift” in citizens’ productivity, consumption patterns, financial habits, and interactions with each other.
Speaking at the Telephone Workers’ Credit Union 68th Annual General Meeting at the Hyatt Regency in Port of Spain, Le Hunte said credit unions’ interaction with the country’s “grass roots” put them in a unique position to change people’s concept of development.
“Credit unions, like this one, are founded on the principles of financial inclusion and support for individuals and families who might not be able to access the same services from a commercial bank. This, coupled with your capacity for education and awareness, means that you are well situated to help effect the paradigm shift that we are now being called upon to make as a country.”
He said the country’s development was not about consumerism but about the management of our natural resources. “True development is not just related to consumerism, comfort and growth. It must also involve the efficient and effective use of the available resources... (We must) ensure that they are being used by the population in an efficient and sustainable way.”
Some of these resources, he said, were government incentives that encouraged entrepreneurial activity and included areas of small and medium enterprises, agriculture, and the creative industries.
He said the Government was doing its part to stimulate growth in the economy and outlined several incentives aimed at achieving economic sustainability. He suggested that credit unions use their influence to help their members take advantage of the business incentives that the government put in place and generally get members into more productive sectors rather than just spending.
Le Hunte said credit unions had a critical role to play in the growth and development of the small business sector and made several suggestions. These included credit unions increasing the availability of small loans, decreasing borrowing costs compared to more conventional financial institutions, and counselling of members through financial education.
“Then there is the role that you must play in educating your membership. This would entail consultation and guiding members to make proper choices, raising their awareness of financial literacy, and in these challenging times, helping them in the restructuring and refinancing of their loans.”
He also suggested they provide members with new financial products and services to facilitate start-ups and to help their businesses to grow and thrive. He admitted that this mandate would involve taking additional risks but said that, in these economically, socially, and politically turbulent times, visionary leaders and strong yet adaptable institutions were needed to keep communities and families afloat.
In addition, he said for any organisation to survive, its staff needed to focus on the needs of their members. For example he said if the members were getting old, need housing, or were unemployed, the credit union would need to provide different services.
To do all this, he said it was necessary to train employees to give more and better advice on a variety of topics. “As an organisation, you need to be constantly keeping abreast of the needs of your members and ensuring you are satisfying those needs. As part of national development... Credit Unions have to train their people to better evaluate small business loans, to give members more advice in different areas.”