A Welsh credit union quickly adapted to a new way of working during the Covid-19 pandemic, helping them process credit applications in half the time and provide ‘lockdown loans’ to those who needed it most.

By thinking digitally and upgrading their loan assessment platform, Smart Money Cymru Credit Union halved the time it takes to assess loans, helping them get money into members’ accounts within 24 hours. They also successfully switched to remote working, with the benefits to productivity making it seem like they have an extra pair of hands on board.

Smart Money Cymru has been providing ethical loans to residents of Caerphilly and Blaenau Gwent for 30 years. By taking a customer-first approach, they have grown sustainably and stepped into the gap left by bank branch closures, making sure the communities of South East Wales still have access to affordable credit.

To support their 6,000+ members during the pandemic, Smart Money Cymru used digital to launch a ‘lockdown loan’ for its existing members to help them pay for daily essentials and reduce money worries.

“It really has taken the business forward”

To help staff process loan applications quicker, Smart Money Cymru installed automated credit evaluation platform Lace Curtains. Once they’d configured the software to make the key lending decisions for staff, assessment times were halved, and quicker approvals meant the union could transfer money into members’ accounts sooner: something that provided relief during a time of uncertainty.

“It really has taken the business forward,” explains CEO Mark White. “Everything is electronic so we have reduced our paperwork, but the crucial thing is applications are processed so much quicker: in some cases, we can give an answer in 5 minutes.”

“Covid-19 forced us to change how we worked”

Having already taken the first steps of a digital overhaul before the pandemic struck, Smart Money Cymru reached out to Superfast Business Wales for an objective review of what they had planned.

Mark explains: “We’d perhaps fallen behind a bit in terms of new technology over the last few years. But Covid-19 forced us to change how we worked.”

Vice Chair Geraint Jones adds: “We’d built a list of areas to focus on, but it was a huge advantage to get impartial advice from our digital business adviser, Cath Padfield. Our 1:1 highlighted new areas where we could improve processes, plus it gave us the confidence to press on with the bits we’d already marked for changes.”

With Welsh Government encouraging firms to work from home wherever possible, Smart Money Cymru first invested in new laptops. This allowed staff to work remotely and provide the same service to customers as if they were in the office.

Video conferencing has allowed them to hold face-to-face meetings in a Covid-secure way and keep their highly valued client-focused approach.

“Using digital to work differently has shown us a better way of managing our staff and the business”

“Before lockdown, we would have maybe said working from home couldn’t be done,” says Mark. “But this has proved to us that we can. Using digital to work differently has shown us a better way of managing our staff and the business.”

Digital has stepped up and now plays a crucial role in the business. The hardware upgrades and shift to home working has made things more productive, with the team able to get 50% more work done during the week.

 

An image symbolising growth of money.

 

This transformation has also given Mark and other board members chance to step back from the day-to-day running of the business and focus on changing the business for the better. “Digital has made things cheaper and easier. If we're going to come out of the other side of this pandemic fitter and stronger, we need to have digital on our side.”

And with digital on board, Smart Money Cymru are confident about the future. Their plans include integration between systems set to make things even more efficient and a new digital marketing strategy to reach a new audience who may never have used a credit union before.

“Our use of digital is becoming so much more sophisticated”

“Right now, we’re looking at linking a VOIP system with our CRM system,” says Mark. “That means when a customer calls, their records will be brought up straight away. It’ll make things so much quicker and easier for our team and, just as importantly, we can keep our personal approach with customers and reassure them during these tough times.”

Mark concludes: “our use of digital is becoming so much more sophisticated. Thanks to Superfast Business Wales’ tailored report and digital marketing webinar, we have a clear medium-term plan to link up all parts of our business to benefit not just us, but our customers too.”

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