A credit union is a form of cooperative financial institution with which members are associated clients, depositors or borrowers. The approaches of cooperative banks bear on the principles of self-help and responsibility.
Credit unions can be distinguished from banks and other financial institutions in that they are owned by members who hold accounts in the credit union. The members elect their board of directors through a voting system irrespective of how much money they have invested in the union.
Even though, credit unions were initially started in urban areas they also spread to rural areas. And today, most credit unions still have some interests in small scale retailing operations, in addition to the traditional banking business.
In some regions, credit unions are addressed by different names such as savings and credit cooperative organizations (SACCOs) in Africa. In Afghanistan credit unions are known as Islamic investment and finance cooperatives (IIFCs), and are bound by strict Islamic banking practices.
The acquisition of shares in a cooperative bank usually requires that an individual becomes a customer of the credit union in contrast to conventional banking institutions, although in some cases shares may also be purchased by non-customers.
Principally, membership is acquired against the following conditions: membership application, approval by the board, payment of credits and an issued certificate.
The policies governing interest rates and other matters are laid out by the board of directors, and the credit unions render the majority of traditional financial services offered by mainstream banks. The range of services include checking accounts, savings accounts, credit cards, share term certificates (certificates of deposit), and online banking among others.
Commonly, only registered members enjoy access to services such as cash deposits or borrowing money from the credit union. In the context of microfinance, the concept of credit unions offer a comprehensive range of financial services, and products at lower charges compared to the majority of microfinance institutions.
The amount of dividends issued by the credit union typically depends on net income or profit, and is authorized by the general assembly of representatives.
Every member has the right to increase membership stake at the end of a fiscal year or to withdraw altogether, and this must be in writing on the basis of a three months or six months notice. In the event of the death of a member his/her interests are passed on to the heirs.
The exclusion of a member is governed by the credit union statutes, in the main, this can only be done if the member has violated the statute, given inaccurate information about his financial situation or has become insolvent. It is also possible for members to be excluded from a credit union, if they are found to be simultaneously a member of another credit union.