The Newtownforbes native has been at the center of an institution that pales in comparison to the one she joined in 1977.
Now, forty-four years later and with a vigorous spring in her step, Helen is preparing to appeal to an organization to which she has devoted more than two-thirds of her adult life.
âWhen I started, Longford Credit Union was on Dublin Street,â she recalls, even managing to remember its exact location, number 36.
âI have always been interested in money and finance, the job came up, I applied and I was lucky enough to get it,â she added.
Regardless of her own feelings of personal growth, Helen was quickly tasked with strengthening the organization’s reputation as a first employee.
Add to that the glaring reality of a company that in the 1970s was mired in economic, industrial and political turmoil, starting a career was anything but easy.
Helen’s decision to make a living in finance would coincide with a momentous decision taken in 1979 that would ultimately go a long way to severing the country’s one-sided bond with the pound sterling that had existed since independence.
For the most part, its impact was much more psychological than financial. For Helen, all she cared about was trying to get Longford Credit Union to enter a predominantly traditional banking market.
âDublin Street back then was a very different street from what it is now,â she recalls. âPrivate houses surrounded the office at the time.
âI would have worked alone at the time and was part of the neighborhood, I guess you could say. âIf BSE were to go off, there would always be someone calling with a cup of tea. The Credit Union was also different.
âEveryone knew everyone. It often happened that a family member would come with five or six books with them.
As is customary over time, society is often called upon to keep pace with technological advancements.
The same could be said of the larger credit union industry as it attempted to diversify its own service network into a much altered consumer market.
In the age of contactless payments, online banking, and digital disruptors, pressure began to mount on credit unions to prove they can stay relevant and thrive in the age of fast-paced finance.
Amidst the villains and following in the footsteps of Bishopstown Credit Union, which became the first financial institution of its kind to do so, credit unions have joined Ireland’s ultra-competitive mortgage market.
And according to Helen, it was such a fundamental gesture that it was unambiguous.
“It’s a change for the better,” she said.
âPeople are busier now, more are also working from home and now we have full online banking, farming facilities, mortgages and a person can submit a loan application and collect it in minutes. .
âSoon people will be able to open an account in one transaction.
âEverything is positive and this is the way to go.
Helen alluded to that same sense of positivity when she focused on Ireland’s decision to join the euro more than two decades ago.
“It was also a big change, but like everything that followed, it was a change for the better.”
It’s hard to reverse the confident, rosy outlook of this naturally proud Longford native of the county’s fiscal expansion over the past four and a half decades.
An optimist and a figure who has pursued an always-open-door policy throughout his distinguished career, these virtues, by Helen’s own admission, came under scrutiny when Ireland’s banking industry faltered. on the verge of collapse in 2008.
Suddenly, dozens of previously financially stable members found themselves caught in a growing mortgage arrears crisis after the bailout.
In 2013, nearly 13% of homeowner mortgages were at least 90 days late in repayments, a figure that would have been much higher without the wise and tactful intervention of key financial officials like Helen.
âIt was a difficult time,â she remarked with sobering honesty. âSeeing loyal members in trouble was difficult, but we were able to make new deals with them.
âThey (the members) were able to come in and talk to us.
“We were not just a faceless institution and this facility is still here.”
More recently, Helen has been at the forefront of overseeing the smooth transition of the merger of Longford Credit Union to that of Mullingar.
The move saw the consolidation of more than 300 million euros in assets, coinciding with the merger of the new look that has become the largest credit union in the Midlands and one of the largest in the country, serving more than 50 000 members from five offices – Mullingar, Longford, Castlepollard, Kinnegad and Rochfortbridge.
âThe merger with Mullingar Credit Union two years ago was an important decision, but it was definitely the right one,â Helen insisted promptly.
âI saw all the preparation and the hard work that went into it.
âThe board and members were all behind us and it was certainly fair in the sense that it gave us access to full online banking, farm loans and mortgage facilities that we didn’t. could not have had it on our own. “
This is arguably the most critical decision Helen has been involved in, as 86% of members at her 50th Annual General Meeting in December 2019 voted in favor of the proposed plan.
Not that the woman who helped administer this transformational change took credit for it this week as she prepares to leave her office and begin the next chapter of her life.
On the contrary, and in a more jovial context, Helen joked about how her beloved husband Paddy will also have to adjust in the weeks and months to come.
“He’s going to see me a lot more now, but it’s another working day,” she laughed.
âWe can’t wait to do things together, things we might not have had the chance to do in the past. This is what I look forward to doing, doing things I didn’t have time to do before.
âI am fortunate to have the good fortune to be in good health and to be able to move spontaneously now.
âI also live in the countryside by a lake and it’s only a long walk down from my house.
“And I leave a job in very capable hands.”
While it may be the case, the challenge facing the Mullingar Credit Union board of directors to replace Helen Whitney’s name may well be easier said than done.
Forty-four years of tireless service would certainly seem to validate this task as Longford’s financial sector bids farewell to one of its most dedicated and accomplished servants.