WOCCU CEO Reflects on Long Industry Tenure
World Council of Credit Unions President/CEO Pete Crear sat down with Credit Union Times Editor-in-Chief Sarah Snell Cooke just prior to flying off for his association’s last annual conference before his retirement. While Crear was shy about naming a date for his departure, he did share his thoughts with us on the global trends that will come to face U.S. credit unions, including the greatest threats. Click here to watch the video.
Sarah Snell Cooke: Welcome, we’re here today with Pete Crear, retiring CEO of the World Council of Credit Unions. How are you doing today?
Cooke: So you’ve been in credit unions for, well let’s just say decades.
Crear: Yes, very, very long time.
Cooke: Can you give us an example?
Crear: Yeah, some of the stuff we see in Afghanistan, for example. This is a culture that doesn’t embrace money lenders. The fact is banks and other financial institutions just aren’t welcome because it rubs up against the culture of that society. To be able to develop 30 credit unions speaks volumes about the importance of having these. But working around the laws–I guess not working around them but within the law and complying with the law, being innovative.
Cooke: Do you have a favorite system?
Crear: Yeah, I’ve got a couple favorite systems. Not long ago someone told me, “Well, Poland was your poster child, wasn’t it?” And the answer is, I have to admit to it, yes, it is because I hold Poland out at a great example of what you can do in a very short period of time. In Poland, the system is only about 15 years old. Came from almost nothing. When they went through the revolution there and spent all those years fighting, their system truly, truly got rubbed out, and within just a few years it was back, it was up and it was running and it was better than it was before. And they’ve got a group of dynamic leaders. They made all the right moves, did all the right things. So Poland has become the go-to example for me around the world. I tell a lot of stories about Poland and their contribution to their membership, just 63 credit unions but 1,600-plus branches. They’re all networked together so if you walk in anywhere in the country, it’s just like your credit union. Secondly, their contribution both to their community and to their country—I say country. I didn’t make a mistake when I said that. I was at one of their meetings not terribly long ago and they had just reopened the cathedral there in Warsaw and they were there with the archbishop and one of the things that happened was Grzegorz Bierecki, who is the president of the Polish movement, gave the archbishop three or four tubes. Just white mailing tubes and afterwards I asked him, Grzegorz, what was that. And he said oh those were maps. Well of course I thought maps. Why would you give the archbishop maps? And he said well, they were maps of the original boundary of Poland. O.K., I’m curious. Why is that important? And he said, “After the fighting stopped the boundary lines, the new borders of Poland were re-drawn by the Russians. And of course when they redrew them they kind of were very cavalier in the re-drawing. All the official maps have been destroyed–all the official maps have been destroyed so there was not much argument we could mount to stop this from happening. Their incursion was sometimes 20-30 miles inside Poland, but many of the credit unions who operated inside the border had detailed maps of where families lived and the people they served and they were meticulously drawn and kept up to date. We asked if they’d send those to us and that’s what they did and that’s what those are. We submitted those to the country when they were re-drawing the boundaries and that’s how the boundaries were re-drawn, using those maps.” I thought wow what a contribution. What a big contribution this group of credit unions.
Cooke: So what emerging trends have you seen globally that are going to affect credit unions here?
Crear: One of the things we watch closely is that a law that is passed almost anywhere in the world makes its way around the globe. Whether it ends up in your country doesn’t make a difference, but it does get looked at and it does get considered so even bad law has to be taken seriously. In fact, bad law has to be taken very, very seriously and hopefully we stop it before it gets enacted.
Cooke: When there’s no other alternative, that’s the ultimate of serving your members: Going out to them.
Cooke: Where would you like to see credit unions leave their mark?
Crear: Where would I like to see them leave their mark? I’d like to see them markup everything. I don’t want much.