SAN DIMAS, Calif. -- An estimated 450 viewers from 14 countries participated in a first-ever International Credit Union Day Webcast sponsored by Western Corporate Federal Credit Union and the World Council of Credit Unions. The Oct. 16 event, produced by WesCorp's Overland Studios in front of a live, studio audience was moderated by Home & Family Finance Radio host Paul Berry and WesCorp's Walter Laskos and featured WOCCU President Pete Crear as the guest.
Worldwide, there are 49,000 credit unions in 97 countries, representing 177 million members, Crear said. WOCCU represents 73 of those countries.
Crear fielded questions from both the studio and Internet audiences and was asked a couple of times about the difference between microlending programs and credit unions.
"Microlending programs help businesses produce products, but credit unions have an idea of sustainability behind them," Crear said, "because eventually, that microlending money dries up."
Because credit unions offer both loans and deposit products, they allow members to break out of the loan cycle and develop family and community wealth. Particularly in developing or war-torn countries, according to WOCCU, credit unions are very important to the communities they serve as often the only local financial services providers.
In Sri Lanka, for example, every village has its own credit union, to the tune of 8,000 financial cooperatives in the island country of 20 million. Crear said Sri Lankan credit unions are so important to villagers, each and every citizen is expected to attend the annual meeting, and joked that even hospitalized members are wheeled to the event in their beds.
WOCCU is also managing a $24 million project in Mexico, working with 72 credit unions to improve balance sheet ratios and technology. Sometimes WOCCU selects projects, and sometimes they solicit WOCCU. For example, the group recently received a letter from the president of Liberia, asking for help rebuilding the nation's credit union system after years of civil war.
In addition to projects to develop and strengthen credit unions in other countries, WOCCU also fills an advocacy function, meeting with government officials on behalf of the financial cooperatives.
Crear said the two biggest global challenges credit unions face are a lack of knowledge and understanding about the financial cooperatives on the part of international agencies, like the International Accounting Standards Board, and the need for credit unions to cooperate with each other.