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FARMERS BRANCH, Texas – Representatives from the Texas Credit Union League and Caja Popular Mexicana met earlier this month in Leon, Mexico to identify key areas in which the two organizations could share information and expertise to better serve the financial needs of people on both sides of their shared border. World Council of Credit Unions, Inc. facilitated the discussions. “We took six credit union participants, members of our Texas/Mexico Credit Union Relations Committee, and two League staff members and were treated like royalty,” said TCUL President and CEO Dick Ensweiler. “Our meeting with the Caja Popular Mexicana executive team was very productive. For 1-1/2 days, we talked about the issues, and we think our discussions will spur credit union membership on both sides of the border.” According to Ensweiler, four key issues were discussed – remittances, marketing, technology and investments – with the lion’s share going to remittances. The group identified ways to increase the sending of remittances in both directions. Many credit unions are already successfully sending remittances from U.S. credit union members to their families in Mexico, he said. The team wants to see that number increase, but also wants to encourage Mexican residents to use the system for sending funds to their family members living in Texas. As a result of the discussions, CPM staff will attempt to glean new insights in technology and financial institution management by “interning” in Texas credit unions, learning more about information systems, remittances, investments and marketing. Conversely, Texas credit union staff will “intern” at CPM to learn more about the Mexican language, culture and people, in hopes of better serving their Hispanic members and reaching unbanked Hispanics in the United States. CPM also will review credit union marketing materials to ascertain cultural appropriateness. The meeting was a follow-up to the signing of a People-to-People partnership agreement in February 2002 by the two organizations, along with California Credit Union League and WOCCU. The stated goal of that agreement is to graduate the partnership to a business opportunity, first through remittances and ultimately to a cross-border shared branching network. “We share so much more than a border. As credit union leaders, we share a people and a philosophy in serving them. And we share the opportunity to provide those same people with access to affordable financial services,” explained Ensweiler. What brought these two entities together is two credit union development projects being carried out by WOCCU and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The goals of the first project are to increase CPM’s financial self-sufficiency and institutional efficiency; the second project will tie CPM into World Council’s IRnet remittance program. CPM CEO Ramon Imperial Zuniga explained, “Although we are a large institution serving a great many members geographically dispersed throughout Mexico, internally we need to get stronger. Through the partnership with Texas, California and WOCCU, we feel the experiences and information we gather will be of great value to us. If we were to do it on our own, it would take 10 years. Through the partnership, I’m confident we can attain our goals in three.” “This alliance is a two-way street,” said Mario Galarraga, WOCCU-CPM project director and facilitator of the strategic planning session. “TCUL will learn more about business lending and marketing to Hispanics. CPM will gain new technology and how to administer institutions in a more disciplined manner. Ultimately, this will help the WOCCU-CPM project achieve the goals we’ve set, such as new services to members – i.e. debit and credit cards, and especially remittances.” Ensweiler said the two groups will not waste any time in implementing the measures they outlined at the November meeting. “We’re working now to pin down dates in December for the Mexican delegation to visit the U.S. We’d like to get them in on the weekend to join us for our office Christmas party and have time to socialize before beginning our professional relationship. Then on Monday morning, we would begin visiting credit unions,” said Ensweiler. -

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