As the new president/CEO of the World Council of Credit Unions Brian Branch has hit the ground running since stepping into the role following Pete Crear’s retirement.
“Credit unions deal with so much now, and we’ve always talked proudly of the work we do. And now we need to listen in and find out what is useful information to share with credit unions,” said Branch.
“What we find everywhere, across all borders are real compliance challenges, and credit unions are left trying to figure out how to comply," he said.
"That is just one common theme, so we’re going to continue to ask ourselves how what we’re doing is relevant to helping credit unions. Part of the challenge today is how we can serve as a clearinghouse of the information, experience and trends we see in other countries and share what’s useful to move ahead–that is where WOCCU can show value,” Branch said.
He got his start at WOCCU as a graduate student and over the years worked with credit unions, microfinance providers and other financial institutions and has hands-on field experience in 47 countries.
A part of WOOCU for over 20 years, most recently as executive vice president/chief operating officer, Branch has held a variety of positions ranging from economist and manager of research and development to regional manager for Latin America and vice president of development services.
Under his operational leadership, WOCCU has diversified its funding sources, tripled annual operations and introduced handheld technology for credit unions to extend remote service delivery in rural areas. He has overseen development programs in more than 40 countries and led legislative and regulatory development in 12 countries.
Branch has also increased opportunities for international engagement and exchange among credit unions and leagues across developed and developing systems.
“I have lot more opportunity now to sit and talk big issues, challenges, strategic credit union systems,” said Branch. “I really enjoyed working with Pete. He gave me the best advice, which was to have fun and don’t become overwhelmed with it all. In my previous position, I used to be very involved in operations, so it took some adjustment. I had to shift gears, step back a bit, delegate more and stay with the big picture view of where we are going strategically.”
Part of the strategic view ranges from membership growth and development to furthering the international partnership programs and taking some of the technology produced through the WOCCU Services Group to credit union systems in other countries with little to no access to electronic delivery.
“We’re looking around the world and some of the credit union systems out there have no link to the international system, so we’re reaching out to those in Asia for example,” said Branch. “We always will be a development organization, and it has been harder to get funding for that as the recession has impacted some donors, so we’re going to be more aggressive in pursuing those opportunities.”
He added that much can be gained from looking beyond local communities served and even a country’s borders to embrace more of a global perspective.
“There’s been lots of interest in experimentation of hand-held technology as ways to deliver service to members at their convenience. We see lots being done with ways to achieve greater efficiencies everywhere and how other countries model collaboration to share back-office systems and try new ways to give greater scales of efficiencies so small credit unions can continue to operate,” said Branch. “It’s all a work in progress and always a trade off, freedom of the individual credit union to member demand and how to protect the quality of account information and product delivery. But it’s exciting to realize what can happen when we get together and partner internationally.”
Drumming home the idea that credit unions worldwide share a common mission and values has been the purpose of International Credit Union Day. It’s a moment where credit unions can bask and share with consumers in what bonds them together and sets them apart from other financial institutions.
“To a lot of our international members, International Credit Union Day is a big deal. What’s always struck me is that I could go into a credit union in the mountains in Ecuador or in a village in Malawi and that ICU Day Poster in the credit union lobby gives a sense that you are part of something more than just a village but part of an international system. If those same arguments and logic have less appeal in the United States, then we need to start thinking how to make it more appealing.”
That feeling of being a part of something bigger has also been the driving factor for WOCCU to push credit unions to be a part of the United Nations’ International Year Cooperatives celebration.
Slated to launch the week of Oct. 31, the IYC celebration will kick off with a series of meetings and workshops at the U.N.'s New York City headquarters. WOCCU' s online IYC platform, www.woccu.org/iyc2012, contains information and resources for WOCCU member organizations interested in recognizing and celebrating the year-long designation. The website also features a forum through which members, credit unions and other cooperative business leaders can share ideas, photos and video about IYC and current issues affecting credit unions.