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VIENNA, AUSTRIA – Credit union leaders met here on July 1 to discuss growth opportunities in international areas for U.S. credit unions. The meeting was hosted by United Nations Federal Credit Union and its Vienna liaison office, and sponsored by the Center for Credit Union Innovation, LLC, and the Filene Research Institute. Conferees included NCUA Board Member JoAnn Johnson, United Nations FCU President/CEO Mike Connery, and representatives of national U.S. credit union organizations and individual credit unions. The Vienna meeting was convened to help participants better understand the challenges of serving members internationally, in areas such as paying bills in local currency. In Austria, for example, consumers typically pay all bills through direct debt and electronic transfers rather than writing checks. Another credit union challenge is conforming to host country law and regulations as a U.S. regulated financial institution. Meeting organizers also hope gatherings such as this one will help the NCUA in its deliberations as it develops new regulations addressing how credit unions can provide services in foreign areas. “Meetings like this one serve to give regulators an idea of the business challenges involved in credit union operations in other countries,” said Bill Sayles, managing director, Center for Credit Union Innovation. The $1 billion-plus, 46,000-member United Nations FCU is considered a model for other CUs whose strategies include delivering services to employees of international sponsors in foreign locations. UNFCU Representative Liaison Offices (RLOs) in Vienna and Geneva, Switzerland, provide a variety of member services including account opening, transfers, loan applications and marketing. They do not deal in cash, accept deposits, or maintain local currency accounts for members. The RLO approach has achieved U.S. and foreign county regulatory approval. Participants heard presentations on management and operations of United Nations FCU’s Vienna liaison office; a strategic overview and history of the office; how the liaison office serves member needs; and possible future directions for international involvement by U.S. credit unions. Human resource challenges vary greatly from country to country. Benefits packages in some countries are prescribed by law, and a U.S. credit union must conform to local standards. For example, in Austria an employer must provide a minimum of five weeks vacation to each employee.

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