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<p>GUELPH, ONTARIO, Canada – Nearly 50 years ago “to the day,” Al Charbonneau started his first job at a credit union his father founded and chartered, almost certain that this would be his life’s calling. He probably didn’t have an inkling that his humble beginning would result in becoming the chief executive officer of the World Council of Credit Unions, Inc. in 1982. It was here that he joined in the quest to bring the idea of the cooperative spirit to countries around the globe. He retired in 1993. “My interest was peaked early on about understanding different cultures,” Charbonneau recalled. “I’m very proud of the impact WOCCU had. It was an opportunity of a lifetime.” During his 11-year tenure, Charbonneau, now 70, was instrumental in restructuring CUNA’s international arm by carrying out the organization’s long-term recommendations including incorporating CUNA’s global projects office into WOCCU’s office in Madison. That major revamping eventually paid off because Charbonneau’s staff grew from six to 50 with a budget of more than $10 million. More importantly, WOCCU continued on the path of its predecessors helping to establish credit unions in the Caribbean, Australia, Ireland, Kenya and Korea. After retiring in 1993, the Canadian native returned to his home country to be near his six children and 11 grandchildren. He’s also a tireless advocate for those living with cancer and has spearheaded many fundraising efforts with the Canada Cancer Society. His roots in the movement started at LaFleche Credit Union in rural Saskatchewan, a cooperative co-founded by his father and is still around today. Five years later, Charbonneau was hired as the education director for the Saskatchewan Credit Union League and later, at the age of 26, became its managing director, the equivalent of today’s president/CEO. A chance meeting with an inspector from the registrar of credit unions in Jamaica, West Indies peaked his interest in how the movement was reflected in other parts of the world. Soon after, he went to work for CUNA International as its international director where he primarily oversaw the world extension department which, during the mid-1950s sought to extend its outreach worldwide. CUNA recommended that each national country have its own association, and Charbonneau was instrumental in helping establish organizations that spoke collectively for the fledging credit unions that began to launch around the world. In 1967, Charbonneau became the managing director of the Michigan Credit Union League while serving as chairman of CUNA’s World Extension Committee. He recalls Michigan forging new ground, being among the first credit union pioneers to offer centralized data processing. “We went full force, made our share of mistakes, but we never backed down and never looked back,” Charbonneau said From Michigan, he went on to become CEO of the Credit Union Central of Ontario and during that time served on the boards of the Credit Union Central of Canada and WOCCU. He was also president of the International Association of Managing Directors (now AACUL) during his time in Saskatchewan and Michigan. Charbonneau stayed in Ontario for eight years and then received a call to become president/CEO of WOCCU in large part because of his keen ability to oversee massive restructuring projects that increased efficiency and productivity. “Most of our children were grown or getting ready to leave the nest so this was an opportunity for us to have an understanding of other cultures as we sought to develop credit unions,” Charbonneau said. “I soon discovered that international development has all kinds of pitfalls that are not easily solved. Development has so much to do with the changing situations around the world.” Still, Charbonneau left an indelible print on WOCCU’s global campaign. In 2000, he received the World Council’s Distinguished Service Award for dedicated service. In 1999, he was inducted into the Michigan Credit Union League’s hall of fame and in May, the Canadian Credit Union League also inducted the native son into its hall of fame. Today, Charbonneau and his wife, Aggie of 49 years, spend winters in Florida and summers in Ontario. They regularly make visits to the children and grandchildren whom all live in Ontario. He was disappointed to see the disbandment of Members Prime, an association comprised of retired credit union executives which he says is a small indication of the industry’s wane to serve older members. “With the aging population and the bulk of savers being fifty-five and older, credit unions have got to make a stronger effort to serve this population because other financial institutions are looking to capture their business,” Charbonneau said. He also said there needs to be a renewed focus on remembering that the member is the reason why credit unions were organized in the first place. “We can’t purely gravitate into an organization that is more concerned with profit,” Charbonneau said. “We have to be sure that the humanistic element is preserved.” [email protected]</p>

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