For nearly two hundred years, co-operative and other co-operative and community-based financial institutions have provided financial services to European citizens and small businesses with the prime objective of delivering social and economic benefit to the people they serve, rather than creating private wealth for third-party investors.

Many of these institutions emerged from social movements connected by shared philosophies of mutuality and co-operation, such as credit unions, building societies and co-operative banks. They have endured with varying degrees of success, in some countries becoming major providers of financial services and, in others, relatively minor participants in the social economy.

In recent years, European policy-makers have come to see these organisations as key actors in meeting the challenge of social and financial inclusion, and, particularly since the banking crash of 2008, as consumer-friendly, stable counterweights to the risk and volatility of investor-owned banks and financial firms.

Yet, until now, there has been no independent research organisation in Europe solely aimed at developing the resilience and growth of these organisations – by helping them identify and adopt new services, better engage communities, improve business practices, protect values, reduce risk and collaborate for the common good.

So, the Centre for Community Finance Europe!

The Centre’s focus is on the practical realities of delivering financial services such as loans, savings and insurance on an ethical and socially beneficial basis to individuals and micro- to medium-sized enterprises. Our research addresses strategic and tactical/operational issues of sustainability, such as corporate governance, business strategy, product/service development and risk management.

Research subjects include co-operatives and mutuals (such as credit unions and building societies), social enterprises (such as the UK’s Community Development Finance Institutions), and co-operative banks, as well as social businesses in other sectors that engage with community finance (such as housing associations that seek affordable credit for residents). The Centre undertakes research across Europe, informed by experience and knowledge from around the world, but aimed at local solutions.

The Centre also offers training and advisory services, delivering actionable guidance to organisations, practitioners and national and local government policymakers.

The research programme is agreed in consultation with members.


Ralph Swoboda, Chair, is the Managing Director of CUFA Ltd., the Dublin-based provider of financial analytics software to credit unions and other mutual financial firms. An attorney by training, he has over forty-five years of experience in the USA and international credit union sector, having served as President/CEO of Credit Union National Association (the primary U.S. credit union trade body), as Chairman of the Management Committee of the Association of British Credit Unions, Ltd. (ABCUL), and later as head of International Operations for CUNA Mutual Group.

After leaving CUNA Mutual in 2005, Ralph co-founded CUFA Ltd. and has provided consulting and executive-level project management services to credit unions and credit union organisations in the USA, UK, Ireland, Australia and China and to the World Council of Credit Unions. Over the years, Ralph has also served as a director of numerous credit union and co-operative organisations in America and internationally, including CARE USA, US Central Credit Union, and the Filene Research Institute (of which he was one of the founders).

Contact Ralph:

Dr Paul A. Jones, Director of Research, is Reader in the Social Economy at Liverpool John Moores University, where he heads up the Research Unit for Financial Inclusion. He is also visiting lecturer in the social economy at the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague. Paul has had over twenty-five years’ experience in academic, action and evaluative research in credit union organisational development, financial services for lower and moderate-income households, and money and debt advice services.

The subjects of Paul’s research studies have included widening access to community finance in London, credit union strengthening in the UK and Romania, credit union governance (for the UK Government), access to affordable credit in Europe (for the European Commission), and credit union engagement with prisons (for the UK Ministry of Justice). Paul is also a frequent speaker at international credit union and co-operative events throughout Europe. He was the Editor of the Journal of Co-operative Studies from 2006 to 2015, and is currently its Deputy Editor. Paul is a director of Enterprise Credit Union and chairs the Audit and Risk Committee at Manchester Credit Union.

Contact Paul:

Nick Money, Director of Development, is an independent management consultant to co-operative and not-for-profit enterprises. Since 2011, Nick has built a practice specialising in advising executives and boards on governance, strategy and business development. Nick is an associate with the Research Unit for Financial Inclusion at Liverpool John Moores University. He is also a consultancy project supervisor for students on the MBA programme at the Alliance Manchester Business School.

Prior to consultancy, Nick worked in a variety of head of function and managerial roles at The Co-operative Bank plc, in particular in business strategy and planning, business change and marketing. Nick is an honorary Life President at Co-operative Credit Union, director of South Manchester Credit Union, and a former member of the Co-operative Governance Expert Reference Panel of the trade body Co-operatives UK.

Contact Nick:

Michael Byrne, Director, is the CEO of Core Credit Union Ltd, which serves over 32,000 members throughout South County Dublin. There he has led the credit union through a series of mergers, which have grown its assets from €33 million to €145 million.

In 2021, Michael was elected Vice President and a member of the Board of Directors for the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU). Michael’s vision for the sector and for Core Credit Union is the provision of a full range of ethical financial services that meet all the financial needs of its members. Michael is a founding director of Payac Services CLG, which is a credit union owned services organisation (CUSO) that enables Irish credit unions to provide current accounts to members. Core Credit Union is also one of the Founding Members of CFCFE.

A qualified accountant, Michael was a partner in a mid-size audit practice and provided audit services to a number of credit unions before joining Core Credit Union in 2011.

Caroline Domanski MBE, Director, was appointed CEO of No1 CopperPot Credit Union in 2015, and has had an extensive career in credit unions spanning 17 years. No1 CopperPot is one of the largest credit unions in the UK, with over £145 million in assets and 35,000 members.

As an executive director Caroline’s main focus is on the strategic directors of the business. Working alongside the Board to drive change which ensures the credit union remains forward thinking with a member-centric approach. Caroline regularly represents credit unions throughout the wider mutual movement, raising the profile of the industry and ensuring that credit unions are seen as a sustainable part of the financial services system within the UK. Caroline currently holds a representative seat at the Trade Bodies Round Table and newly formed Trade Associations Cyber Information Group.

Caroline was awarded the UK’s National Young Leader of the Year Award in 2012 and awarded the World Council’s Young Credit Union Person (WYCUP) scholarship in 2013 and has recently completed the BSA’s MSc programme with Loughborough University.


Research Advisory Board

The Research Advisory Board advises the Centre on its research methodology, standards and quality, and oversees peer review of the Centre’s publications. Its members are distinguished academic and professional experts who have demonstrated qualifications in specialist areas relevant to the Centre’s work.

Current members of the Advisory Board:

  • Roger Marsh, Bank of England (Retired)