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NORTHVILLE TOWNSHIP, Mich. – Michigan credit unions have already started picking up on the work started in Macedonia by Martha Ninichuk and the World Council of Credit Unions (CU Times, Sept. 25). As Ninichuk winds up her stay helping form credit unions in Macedonia, Drew Egan and Carolyn Miller from the Michigan Credit Union League traveled to Macedonia for a week in September and expect to return again in November or early 2003. Their mission: continue efforts to organize Macedonian credit unions and give credit unions legal status under Macedonian law. Macedonian representatives visited Michigan in early October to learn still more. Egan, MCUL executive vp, explains the league’s World Affairs Committee looks for opportunities to strengthen partnerships with the WOCCU and development of credit unions internationally. The committee recommended to the MCUL board that the league become involved with the Macedonian effort. “Carolyn and I went over there to do several things – get a better idea of how far along they are, learn whether this is something we want to get involved in, do some training for Macedonian credit union folks, and attend the opening of their fifth `savings house,’” Egan says. At this point there is no enabling legislation to allow credit unions in Macedonia. A FULM Savings House is the closest financial cooperative. “We were very impressed with their efforts. They have done a remarkable job and made incredible headway over the past couple years,” Egan declares. However, credit unions are in their infancy there. Backers need training and support as well as legislative help. Egan and Miller, a MCUL consultant, will meet with the World Affairs Committee and then the league board to present a plan for continuing involvement in Macedonia. The plan will involve some legislative advocacy. The Macedonian contacts would like Egan and Miller to meet with their Minister of Finance and the president of their central bank, high-ranking officials whose U.S. counterparts would be the Secretary of the Treasury and the chairman of the Federal Reserve. Egan and Miller will work with these officials to draft and support a national credit union act. “It doesn’t come without its challenges,” Egan acknowledges. “They have these savings houses, which are somewhat like credit unions, but in other financial institutions in Macedonia there have been pyramid schemes where people lost a lot of money. So the government is a little bit leery of anything but the traditional banking environment.” Another hurdle is simply training people in the credit union philosophy and volunteer spirit. The league wants to match people from Michigan credit unions and the league as mentors for their Macedonian counterparts. The league will launch a campaign later this year to get credit unions on board. Egan says member credit unions have already shown a lot of enthusiasm. He adds there has also been strong interest in establishing a Web-based or video conferencing-based training link between Michigan and Macedonia. There’s also some good news in Macedonia itself. “The savings houses that are in place right now are 100 percent loaned out, have zero delinquencies and have been running well for a couple years. Their reputation among government officials is growing.” Egan says. Macedonians currently pay about 24 percent interest on loans, a rate guaranteed to send U.S. credit union members racing angrily away from the loan officer’s desk. But Macedonians also earn 12 percent on savings, a return that in today’s economic environment might prompt those same members to pause at the teller line on their way out and make a hefty deposit. Egan describes Macedonians as friendly, hardworking and big savers. Loans are primarily for relatively small amounts such as $1,000. That money is typically used for necessities such as farm equipment. How long will it take for credit unions to catch on in Macedonia? Egan figures it’s too early to know. However, he does think it will involve a long-term effort. “We’re easing into this,” he says. As for evaluating success, “We will measure the number of members signed up. They have goals of how many members they want to sign up per branch. We’ll measure the amount of deposits. We’ll measure as part of our success whether or not we get credit union legislation passed.” MCUL President/CEO David Adams also expects the project will take time. “This first visit by our staff is just the beginning of what we hope will be a long and mutually beneficial relationship between the Michigan Credit Union League, the World Council of Credit Unions and the Macedonia Savings House,” Adams states. -

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