The environment we find ourselves in as we enter the second decade of the new century is filled with both opportunities and challenges. The relocation of MABS under the wing of the CIB, has given a sense of stability to MABS. The change has provided National Traveller MABS with scope to evaluate our role, reassess our priorities, and develop a strategic plan in keeping with the needs of the community we serve and the aims and objectives of the CIB.

The Client Profile of MABS has Changed

However such a change in structure could not have come at a more challenging time. The current global economic crisis is having a profound impact on all. The client profile of MABS in general has changed, with a increase in the number of those previously on a middle income now experiencing unmanegable and often more complex debt. Much of the debt now being recorded in MABS is due to the over exposure by many to legal credit. This contrasts greatly to the experience of many marginalised groups such as the Traveller community, who have suffered consistently from financial exclusion. The increased demand on an already overstretched service by those who have been overexposed to legal credit, is contributing to the further exclusion from services of marginalised groups in society. Such existing pressures and the threat of further cutbacks, is putting severe pressure on services such as MABS.

NTMABS must work to ensure Travellers, with a low capacity to access services, are not forgotten during this critical period. NTMABS sees its role as ensuring MABS remains accessible to its original target group (the disadvantaged on low income), and open and acccessible to those experiencing not just over indebtedness but also financial exclusion.

Yet despite the current economic climate, NTMABS is confident that the imminent changes in banking policies and practices together with current EU and state policy decisions will support NTMABS in addressing institutional discrimination and the financial exclusion of the Community.

National Policies are Required to Combat Poverty and Social Exclusion

The National Payments Implementation Programme designed to deliver a payments infrastructure that is inclusive of all sectors of society, and shares the benefits universally will, we hope, address some of the issues of financial exclusion. The Financial Regulator's statutory and Consumer Protection Code for Licensed moneylenders will soon be joined by the revised Anti Money laundering Guidance Notes, to ensure easier access to and use of financial services. NTMABS, having made a submission on the revisions to the Guidance Notes, trust the new guidelines will clarify for many the required documentation needed to access financial services.

The decision by the EU to designate 2010 as the European Year against Poverty and Social Exclusion will, we believe, ensure the development of more effective and efficient national policies to combat poverty and social exclusion. Designating 2010 to such an important issue, highlights the importance placed on marginalised groups and services such as National Traveller MABS. We trust our key priorities laid down in our Strategic Plan will support a successful outcome to the four main objectives of the European Year Against Poverty and Social Exclusion.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Following the introduction of the Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Act 2008, the Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan TD, signed Statutory Instrument No. 411 of 2008, The Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Scheme. Article 45 of the Scheme places a statutory obligation for Corporate Social Responsibility on the banks covered by the guarantee. The banks are required to report twice yearly to the Minister on a wide variety of issues, including, their actions in the areas of the delivery of the national payments strategy, the promotion of financial inclusion, and the development of financial education. This affords NTMABS the opportunity to engage with the banks and the IBF in particular on key issues that affect the community we serve.

NTMABS has long been an advocate of alternative options of legal and affordable savings and credit. The impact the current economic downturn and collapse of the banking sector, has had on society will we anticipate, encourage more emphasis to be placed on such alternatives.

Managing Low Incomes in the Information Age

Research undertaken by the former Combat Poverty Agency (now incorporated within the Social Inclusion Division of the Department of Social and Family Affairs) on managing a low income in the context of an increasingly electronic economy will, we hope, promote appropriate options for the more marginalised in society. Possible options currently growing in importance worldwide, are that of pre-paid credit cards and mobile phone money services. Such initiatives have been operating and gaining continuous momentum for the past number of years among the unbanked in developing countries. However in the US and Europe, growing importance is now being placed on them. In the USA, some providers of prepaid cards have even included a savings mechanism. Both the prepaid cards and the mobile phone money services are being used as a means of safe payment for person to person money transfer. While a prepaid credit card has recently been introduced in Ireland, we are hopeful that the restructuring of the banking system in Ireland will allow debate for the further expansion of such systems here.

Published: 13 June 2013