Just like the 14,000 member credit unions it supports, the World Council of Credit Unions in Madison, Wis., must intermittently reevaluate its structure and programs in order to best meet the needs of those it serves. In September 2011, 22-year WOCCU veteran Brian Branch became president/CEO when Peter Crear retired, and the global trade association and development agency underwent a reorganization, naming five priorities for its teams: membership expansion, deepening of global advocacy, project development, credit union network building, and international training and education.
Branch lists compliance burdens, multiple banking channel implementation and effective product branding as some of the primary challenges WOCCU is helping credit unions address worldwide. Using technology to help bring credit union services to rural areas and low-income consumers is another priority for WOCCU, he said.
In recent interviews with Credit Union Times, Branch, as well as Michael Edwards, chief counsel and vice president for advocacy and government affairs for WOCCU, and Victor Miguel Corro, vice president for WOCCU’s Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions, explained WOCCU’s latest projects and biggest challenges as they relate to the organization’s five key priorities.
The first of WOCCU’s five priorities is to add more groups to its network, and in the past year, WOCCU has welcomed the Central Association of Savings and Credit Associations in Moldava, the Federacion Nacional de Cooperativas de Ahorro y Credito Financieras in Colombia, the Liberia Credit Union National Association, the Credit Union Direct Corp. in Ontario, Calif., CUSSCO Ltd. in Scotland and COOMEVA in Colombia.
Branch said WOCCU has expanded its capacity to identify and monitor key strategic issues, trends, challenges and best practices for its member groups and communicates this information to member groups through a Web-based clearinghouse and issue-specific webinars and workshops.
In the past year, member requests have centered on the Basel III regulatory standard and alternative capital models, collaborative business models, innovative technology and mobile delivery of financial services, messaging and branding, member business lending, membership growth, and fee income controls and mergers, Branch noted.
Heavy involvement in regulations that affect the credit union industry worldwide is another priority for WOCCU, and the organization works on issues from both ends–by influencing decision-makers within governments and helping credit unions understand and stay compliant with recently imposed regulations.
Branch said WOCCU’s current regulatory activities include engaging the Financial Action Task Force, International Accounting Standards Board, Bank for International Settlements, European Union, Group of Twenty, the IRS and the CFPB in policy discussions, as well as supporting credit union representation in Brussels, Belgium via the European Network of Credit Unions.
“We identify the upcoming policy standards from these bodies, advance this information and analysis to our members, collect input from our members and communicate with these bodies on how specific standards will impact credit unions,” Branch said.
Edwards, who joined WOCCU in January 2012 after spending seven years in CUNA’s legal department, has been traveling regularly this year for various advocacy projects, including to Madrid, Spain, to make recommendations to the Financial Action Task Force on anti-money laundering standards and to Dublin, Ireland to voice opinions on a proposed law that prohibits certain individuals from becoming credit union directors.
“Compliance burdens are a common challenge for credit unions, especially if they have few resources,” Edwards said. “We want to make sure boards are knowledgeable of the issues and develop guidance for credit unions. For example, loan-loss accounting doesn’t happen the right way in a lot of countries, and that leads to inaccurate accounting and other problems. It’s important for credit unions to have public trust and a level of supervision in place.”
WOCCU’s projects typically entail helping credit unions around the world strengthen their management, introduce downstream projects and reach marginal populations, Branch said. While WOCCU is rarely involved in launching new credit unions, it’s currently doing so in Afghanistan. Branch said after the fall of the Taliban, government officials in Afghanistan invited WOCCU to set up credit unions and design Islamic banking products. The country now has around 98,000 credit union members, and WOCCU even helped get some women elected to the credit unions’ boards.
“We found that the credit union model fit well in Afghanistan, because it’s community-driven,” Branch said.
In order to expand their reach and meet consumer demands for multiple banking channels, credit unions must invest in new technology, even if they have few resources, Branch pointed out. To solve this dilemma, WOCCU is helping credit unions pool their resources to create national networks, establish collaborative business systems and develop mobile technology. For example, the organization is working with credit unions and associations in a number of countries to build electronic credit union networks, providing technical assistance for savings and credit products that target low-income communities, and working with local telephone companies to develop mobile banking solutions.
Branch said while utilizing collaborative technology solutions is a great option for credit unions with few resources, it’s important for them to display individualism in their branding efforts to stay competitive. WOCCU is currently helping to facilitate 53 British credit unions’ conversion onto a data processing system through a collaborative platform that also allows each credit union to maintain a distinctive online look.
“The recent drive for giving credit unions the ability to provide technology solutions that can bring their services to rural and low-income communities has been very exciting,” he said.
Corro, a native of Panama who has been with WOCCU for 14 years, leads the organization’s training and education efforts, through which credit union professionals around the world learn from one another to enrich their own programs at home. He’s currently focusing on three initiatives: the international partnership program, a peer-to-peer collaboration program that unites credit unions from different countries; customized international training, which brings together credit unions that do not have established international partnerships; and the international credit union leadership program, an internship program funded by the U.S. Department of State that temporarily places young professionals in credit unions overseas.
“Credit unions are always ready to open their doors and show their peers how to do things,” Corro said.
Two of the biggest challenges Corro said he faces in WOCCU’s training and education department are persuading credit unions to invest in education programs and finding young people to participate in the programs.
“My job is to convince people to go and see what other credit unions are doing, because when they do, they learn at least one thing,” he said. “We also want to engage young people, because they have fresh ideas. We want to them to be enthused, and stay in the credit union industry and make careers out of it.”
Branch concluded that going into his second year as CEO, WOCCU will continue focusing on the past year’s priorities as well as on acquiring donor funding for projects.
“We want to build that World Council sense of community and help credit unions connect with one another,” he said. “A lot of that is in messaging, branding and expressing what we have to offer to consumers.”