It’s a great time for U.S. credit unions. The need for strong financial guidance is acute, awareness of the credit union difference is rising, membership is high and surveys tell us members are overwhelmingly satisfied. Yes, there’s room for improvement, but generally, it’s terrific to be a credit union leader in America today.
What about the rest of the world? How are credit unions doing in other nations, and why should we care?
Paying attention to what’s happening with credit unions in other parts of the world is about more than being altruistic members of the movement. Learning “outside the castle” fosters creativity and innovation, which are two essential components to strategic planning.
I recently had the outstanding opportunity to meet with leaders of the Asian Confederation of Credit Unions in Bangkok, Thailand. Over the five-day work session, two truths materialized. First, more women leaders are necessary for the continued success of the movement. Second, access to technology is universally important to the success of credit unions and their members.
More Female Leaders for the Movement
It’s important to understand the rise of the female leader is happening in both big and small ways across the world. It simply looks different across different regions. Whereas professional communities in the U.S. are working to enhance the career paths of women already achieving great success, other areas of the world are working to change centuries-old beliefs that keep women out of the workforce. Often, these beliefs are shared by women and men alike, making them even more difficult to overcome.
Working women in the U.S. know well the power of connection. A fully-formed network is an essential component to any professional’s success. Hailing from Bangladesh, I understand intimately the determination and support it requires to achieve success in a culture that has historically relegated women to second-class status.
It is important for female credit union leaders around the globe to connect with their counterparts, learning and sharing to help one another gain a foothold in their individual markets. Today’s credit union leaders, both male and female, will play instrumental roles in this mission. By identifying and encouraging the strong female leaders on their teams to think globally and to raise their hands for volunteer and professional experiences that will expose them to different perspectives, these professionals will indeed change the makeup of our industry.
Several organizations within the movement have recognized the potential value of more women leaders to continued success of credit unions, both here in the U.S. and abroad. The World Council of Credit Unions, for example, has developed the Global Women’s Leadership Network to advance credit union women in leadership and offer women around the world exposure to international perspectives on common credit union challenges like growth strategies, alternative capital and efficiency in operations.
Recently, several of my female colleagues were invited to explore the credit union industry in the Dominican Republic. Upon their return, I was reminded of the innate gifts many women leaders possess, specifically in the areas of empathy and cultural sensitivity. As our world continues to shrink, women leaders are in a unique position to facilitate the kind of connections that will strengthen the movement across countries, cultures and even continents.
As our industry grapples with unprecedented disruption in the payments ecosystem, women leaders will provide an essential lens through which to view innovative solutions. Often serving as the family consumer, women across the globe have a strong sense for what consumers ultimately want from next-generation payments technology. This perspective will be invaluable as we innovate, launch and rollout the consumer-centric payments solutions that add real value to the financial lives of the world’s women.
Next Page: Technology to Power Connectivity
Here in America, we experience the challenges of keeping up with new technology and the consumer demand for new products. Mobile banking and payments, data analytics and the migration of cards to EMV are three areas on which many stateside credit unions are focused today. Globally, and in Asian countries specifically, some credit unions are working simply to digitize. Still, others are working to get online. These credit unions struggle even more as they confront a multitude of challenges ranging from a lack of governance to high delinquency. Assisting these cooperatives in their journey is a call many of us in the U.S. movement have begun to feel.
As in the U.S., collaboration will be instrumental to meeting the growing consumer demand for the kinds of technological advancements that will make the financial lives of global credit union members easier. Partnership opportunities to leverage existing tools and capacity are abundant and must be explored, even across borders. Study-abroad opportunities, travel and education grants and strategic product planning assistance can go a long way to further the global movement.
Of course, network connectivity will be hugely important as credit unions in other parts of the world look to join forces. Without it, great ideas like those that emerged in Bangkok, such as Gen Y-focused social media engagement or licensed data processing solutions can’t get off the ground. In the U.S., with our mature financial system, it can be hard to envision what it’s like to build a credit union from scratch in parts of the world where the movement is newborn or hasn’t yet even started. That’s why it’s so important to make the proactive decision to expose ourselves to these emerging markets, intentionally and with purpose.
Inside your teams, there are those individuals with natural gifts for collaboration and those with a natural curiosity about the world and your credit union’s place in it. Challenge these shining stars, women and men alike, to learn as much as they can about their international counterparts. Encourage them to get involved in the global credit union movement. It will yield an untold return on investment, not only for your own people, but for the entire movement.
Shazia Manus is CEO of The Members Group.
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