The Credit Union Movement

The modern co-operative movement has its origin in Great Britain in 1844 when the economic landscape was changed as a consequence of the Industrial Revolution. Technical advances resulted in the replacement of the traditionally agrarian economy with machinery. The social landscape was impacted as political power shifted from landowners to industrial capitalists who had no interest in improving wages or working conditions.

These changes had dire economic and political consequences, particularly for the poor. Workers in traditionally agricultural jobs suffered decreased wages as mechanization made production cheaper and more efficient. Between 1838 and 1848 workers struggled in vain to secure better working conditions and have labour and property laws reformed.

By 1844 the idea of people working together and relying on each other to survive economically began to take shape leading to the formation of “friendly societies” or “co-operative societies”. Members would pool their resources together to acquire enough capital to begin a business. Goods were then sold at market price and the surplus revenue distributed to members.

Many of the co-operatives experienced difficulties in establishing themselves and therefore collapsed. In 1849 however, this changed when 29 weavers pooled their resources together and opened the first successful consumer co-operative, the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers.

Today most credit unions are still governed by the Rochdale Principles of Co-operation which include:

  1. Voluntary and Open Membership
  2. Democratic Member Control
  3. Member Economic Participation
  4. Autonomy and Independence
  5. Education, Training, and Information
  6. Co-operation Among Co-operatives
  7. Concern for Community

The co-operative movement formally came to the Caribbean in the 19th century when missionaries from Canada and the USA introduced the concept of credit unions in the Caribbean. However, before the introduction of credit unions, Caribbean people had informal co-operative systems for personal saving. Groups of people pooled money and took turns to collect the lump sum at regular intervals. In Antigua we call this practice “Box”. Jamaica had its first credit union in 1941, Trinidad and Tobago in the early forties. The movement spread to Dominica and other countries in the Eastern Caribbean by the late 40’s and early 50’s.


Teacher’s Co-operative Credit Union

In Antigua, the credit union type co-operative was introduced in the 1950’s by a Roman Catholic Priest, Father John Peter Sullivan. Hence, the St. Joseph’s Credit Union was the first church based credit union to have been established within Antigua. Soon to follow were the Ebenezer Credit Union, the Antigua and Barbuda Teachers Credit Union, and the Antigua and Barbuda Police Credit Union. In addition, there were a number of community based credit unions.

Though the Antigua and Barbuda Teachers Credit Union was created in the 1950’s it was not registered until January 18th 1982, following the appointment of a full-time Registrar of Co-operatives Societies in 1980.

The Antigua and Barbuda Teachers Co-operative Credit Union was formed in 1959 under the leadership of Mr. Charles Sampson and a small group of teachers with the objective of ensuring that teachers and their families could operate their own financial savings co-operatives.

In 1989 however, the credit union recognized that a closed bond credit union could place great limitations on its future survival. Faced with this reality, the credit union made a decision to open its bond to include nurses, civil servants and other professionals, for a greater pooling of financial resources.

By 2001 as a result of the open bond, teachers constituted only 30% of the credit union membership as opposed to 70% in 1991. In light of this situation and following recommendations emanating from the Strategic Plan for 2005-2007, a decision to change the credit union’s name to reflect the general membership was adopted.

The Antigua and Barbuda Teachers Co-operative Credit Union name was changed to the Community First Co-operative Credit Union (CFCCU) which aptly expressed the credit union’s resolve to continue bringing the community closer together. Members of the then profession were assured by the then President, Mr. Vier Dublin, that a change in name did not signify a departure from the core philosophy.


Significant Events in CFCCU’s History

April 7, 1959

  • The Teachers Co-operative Credit Union was established under the leadership of the late Charles Sampson. Some of the other pioneers included the late Christophine Williamson, Josephine Kentish, Peter Parker, Charles Roberts and Ursula Bowen.

1960 – 1980

  • Major information gap. No records of meetings of members available at the credit union.

1979

  • Teachers’ strike- The credit union issued loans to several members in order to alleviate financial difficulties.

January 1980

  • Announcement by the President that in the absence of proper records and information on membership, a new numbering system would be introduced with the recall of old pass books and the issuing of new books and numbers.

1980

  • Ministry of Education gives permission to credit union to visit schools to spread the word.

November 1981

  • Members chose a delegation to meet with the Registrar of Co-operatives in order to make a case for registration of the credit union. A decision was also taken for the institution of a new, irrevocable payroll deduction which would be applied to all loans and to deduct E.C.$1.00 from the accounts of all members representing an entrance fee. An important amendment was also made to the By-Laws allowing the unmarried partners of members to become members.

January 18, 1982

  • First Annual General meeting held at the Foundation Mixed School. Certificate of Registration handed over by the then Registrar, Mr. George Jonas.

June 1982

  • Members took a decision to increase the ceiling for loans from EC $500.00 to EC $750.00 with the possibility of an increase to EC $1000.00 in cases of dire emergency.

December 16, 1982

  • The credit union accepted a proposal put forward by the Caribbean Confederation of Credit Union for sharing of office space with the St. John’s Credit Union which was established that year and the Antigua and Barbuda Co-operative Credit Union League. This space was located on the corner of Market and Tanner Streets. The move was made on January 15, 1983.

March 3, 1983

  • A decision was taken to make the post of Secretary/Treasurer two separate positions.

March 1983

  • During the second Annual General Meeting, members voted for a token dividend of 2% on their shares. This was seen as an historic move since it was the first time that dividends were declared.

July 5, 1983

  • Decision taken to increase the interest rate on loans from 15% to 18%.

November 5, 1983

  • Suggestions put forward about the possibilities of merger of all credit union bodies.

August 8-15, 1984

  • Annual Convention and Annual General Meeting of the Caribbean Confederation of Credit Unions (CCCU) hosted by the Antigua and Barbuda Credit Union League (ABCCUL) at Jolly Beach Hotel.

January 1985

  • Matter of credit union amalgamation again raised.

1986

  • Savings Societies successfully launched in eight primary schools.

May 26, 1988

  • Following extensive deliberations members voted not to amalgamate with St. John’s Credit Union but rather strive to keep their own identity. However, in 1989, the bond was extended to incorporate other professionals and business people since it was felt that “the limited number of teachers was insufficient if growth is to be achieved. (Minutes of meeting of December 1991”)

1989

  • The credit union purchased five acres of land at OLIVER’S with the intention of developing a housing project. Initial plans included the acquisition of a further 15 acres.
  • A lease agreement was drawn up between the credit union and the Antigua and Barbuda Teachers’ Union for 4001 sq. ft. of land at a yearly rent of EC $100.00. This agreement was not pursued.
  • Ms. Ruth Ambrose appointed as Special Projects Officer, with responsibility for recruitment and financial counseling.

1991

  • A decision was taken to diversify the credit union’s products and services. Fixed Deposits were offered at competitive rates. Special savings opportunities in the form of Clubs were introduced. Plans were initiated to introduce group medical and air ambulance insurance. Teachers represented 70% of the membership at this point.
  • No Annual General Meeting held since accounts were not up to date. Financial statements for 1990 and 1991 were presented in June 1993 while those for 1992 were presented at an extraordinary meeting in December of that same year (1993). The composition of the Board remained the same until an extra ordinary general meeting was held in December 1993.

1993

  • Paper presented for establishment of a supermarket. This initiative was later abandoned.

February 1994

  • Agreement reached with insurance company Life of Barbados, now SAGICOR for a health insurance plan for credit union members.

July 1994

  • New contract signed for occupation of the entire upper floor of the Newgate Street building. Board continued plans to acquire its own building.
  • Ms. Sandra Jeffrey replaced Mrs. Henrietta Thomas as Manager and served until April 1997.

September 1994

  • First  ad on ABS Television.

1995

  • Plaque donated to Elliot Mason of the Mary E. Pigott School, student of the year 1994. An account was also opened in his name.
  • The loan ceiling was raised from EC $20,000.00 to EC $30,000.00.
  • The Credit Union was fully computerized.

February 1995

  • Interest rate, which had been reduced to 14.5%, further reduced to 12% per annum on the reducing balance.

1996

  • The Board reported that hurricane Luis had impacted negatively on the credit union. Growth had slowed by some 14.6%. It was reported that there was a large increase in the number of delinquent accounts.

June 1997

  • First full time accountant – Adaze Matthew hired.

1997

  • New Co-operative Societies Act enforced.
  • The President in his report to the AGM for that year reported that the society had experienced serious liquidity problems and was threatened with temporary closure by the Registrar of Co-operatives.
  • External assessment conducted with support of Caribbean Confederation of Credit Unions. Among the several recommendations was that a name change should be effected.
  • First of two strategic planning exercises held over a two-day period. Report presented to the Board at a follow up session in April 1998. Proposals for strategic planning cycle not implemented.
  • Plans for constructing its own facility back on the front burner.

1999

  • (August) New Manager, Ingrid O’Marde appointed after an hiatus of two years without a Chief Executive Officer.

2000

  • Antigua Workers’ Union signed agreement with the Board of Directors to represent employees of the credit union.
  • Board approved a new loan policy, employee and operations manuals. A Strategic Plan was adopted to cover the period 2000-2003.
  • Loan ceiling increased to EC $50,000.00. Strategic Review of the credit union conducted, followed by workshops in institutional planning and development 2001-2003.
  • Credit Union becomes major sponsor of the Gemonites ‘Keep Pan Alive with Five’ competition and also major sponsor of the Old Road Softball Cricket Club.
  • Board, Staff and members celebrate International Credit Union Day with an Open House. This and other activities are now held yearly in October.
  • Credit Union becomes involved in the CCCU/Caribbean Modernisation Project for Economic Competitiveness.

2001

  • Teachers represent 30% of the membership.
  • Land purchased for construction of Credit Union Business Centre.
  • Members required to purchase the minimum of 20 shares ($100) to ensure access to all products and services and to fulfill legal requirements (Permanent Shares).
  • Computer software CUMIS purchased.
  • PEARLS prudential ratios adopted in accordance with CCU Recommendations.
  • Retirement planning seminar held.
  • CUNA Family Indemnity Plan (Bereavement Insurance) offered to members.
  • The credit union sponsors a student of the Princess Margaret School to participate in the Youth Business Camp at the annual CCCU Convention- another student also attend this event in 2003.

 2002

  • A decision was taken to change the auditors following an unbroken period of 15 years by Pannell Kerr Forster.
  • Building Committee established.
  • Communications and Public Relations Committee established.
  • Strategic Plan for 2004-2007 adopted along with new mission and vision statements.
  • Staff representatives and officials attend the first ever OECS Credit Union Summit held in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
  • All polices reviewed and amended to come into force in 2004.

2004

  • New name “Community First” adopted.
  • Activities held to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the credit union: Membership forum, Ground breaking for Business Centre, Logo competition for name change, special reception to honour pioneers and volunteer.

2006

  • Moved into new headquarters on Old Parham Road, March 20th 2006.

2007

  • Launched ATM service located at our Headquarters

2008

  • Launched our Website: www.communityfirstonline.com

2009

  • Celebrated our 50th Anniversary
  • Launched Educational Savings Account (CFESA) and Retirement Account (CFIRA)

2010

  • Launched our Global Internet Access (GIA)

2012

  • General Manager Ingrid O’Marde passed the baton to new General Manager Karl Spencer

2013

  • Launched our Facebook page

2014

  • Added new ATM Housing facility to the front of the building.