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KILLARNEY, Ireland – A historic moment doesn’t always need to be earth-shattering. However, a quiet historic moment took place before the World Council of Credit Unions’ 2001 International Conference and Annual General Meeting where 25 representatives from credit unions and co-operative banks sat down to discuss shared values, differences and mutual challenges. Instigated by WOCCU President Arthur Arnold who came from the co-operative banking world, the attendees included officials from the Desjardins Movement in Canada, Credit Mutuel in France, Confedderation Nationale du Crdit Mutuel of France, the International Raiffeisen Union (IRU) in Germany, Federcasse in Italy and Rabobank Netherlands. Arnold told the 700 delegates attending the WOCCU meeting that searching for areas of commonality seemed reasonable considering credit unions and co-op banks had the same heritage with the same founding fathers, Dilizsche, Raiffeisen, Desjardins, etc. He mentioned that when WOCCU had honored the founding fathers in Nashville, Tenn. at last year’s WOCCU annual meeting, some of the co-operative banks, who claim these founding fathers as their own were surprised. However, neither type of institution would have succeeded had these men not existed. The areas of commonality are strong. Both credit unions and co-op banks are member owned and not-for-profit. Co-operative banks and credit unions are sources of tremendous financial strengths for their individual countries. One of the strongest shared values is the respect and encouragement of private enterprize. Arnold called co-operatives and credit unions “the biggest champion of standing on our own feet.” He cited his own experience of seeing financial institutions around the world. “You can’t be strong if you depend on others.” Credit unions represent over 93 million members with $475 billions in savings. Co-operative banks have 55 million clients, 21 million members, and over $1,000 billion in savings throughout the world. Together they represent a massive amount of capital and people. However, there are many differences. Credit unions are 100% member owned, while co-operatives serve both members and clients. Depending on the institution, membership can vary from between 10 to 50% in co-operatives. While credit unions deal mostly with retail, consumer, small businesses and lower income segments of the market place, co-operatives banks also deal with wholesale banking, medium size businesses and consumers. The credit union product line is on the whole, more narrow than that of co-operative banks. A major difference, Arnold stated, was that credit unions are driven from the bottom up, with members the major force, while co-operatives are driven from the top down. Sometimes this makes co-operation from credit union to credit union more difficult than co-operation from co-operative to co-operative. Economies of scale, such as shared computer systems, are easier for co-operatives than for credit unions. Regulations for credit unions can vary from country to country, but co-operatives must follow the standards of the Bank of International Settlements. The credit union philosophy of one member, one vote makes the balance of power clear. Co-operatives depend on who owns what, who has the power and other factors. Although there are more differences then commonalties between the two types of financial services organization, there is no reason, Arnold feels, that the two groups can not work together when there are mutual challenges. Sharing a vision and creating a respect for the diversity is the key, Arnold said. The challenges include how to raise capital, membership, technology, offering new products and services, and competition in an international environment. Although no formal future meetings are planned at the present time, the door has been opened for communication for the benefit of both types of financial services organizations. Arnold hopes that when the need arises there can be mutual co-operation to meet those needs. As he said, between the two it will be possible to “enable millions of people to grow. We are never alone.” -

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