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BANGKOK, Thailand – Most credit union organizations work in one country, one language, one culture, one government. For the Association of Asian Confederation of Credit Unions (AACCU), which is a regional networking body for credit unions throughout 12 Asian countries, the only constant is the credit union philosophy. The group does outreach in eight countries. AACCU has been located in Thailand since 1983 because its strategic location makes it easy to visit their diverse membership in South, Southeast and East Asia. In addition, Thailand’s infrastructure supports an effective communication system, which makes AACCU’s work easier than it might be if they were located in another country. AACCU’s goals are “to strengthen existing programs, introduce innovation but not duplicate national federations,” according to their CEO Ranjith Hettiarachchi. “Asia is the home for more than 800 million poor people in the world with the heaviest concentrations in South and South East Asia,” Hettiarachchi said. “Credit unions should be more active and committed in ensuring that the poor gained access to their financial services,” he said. Despite the diversity in the region, some issues cut across borders. There are few or no regulations to guarantee the safety of peoples’ money. Hettiarachchi believes standards are mandatory “to ensure the quality and competitiveness of established credit unions.” The problem with self-regulation, Hettiarachchi feels, is the reliance on the seriousness of the individual credit union management. Credit unions need external regulations to enforce good operating standards. This is beginning to change. He pointed out that Korea has excellent long-standing credit union legislation and the Philippines enacted legislation in 2003. AACCU, which works with regulators in various countries, organized the first Regulators Conference on the Prudent Management of Asian Credit Unions in October 2003 with a follow up workshop in February 2004. It is an issue that even two meetings will not take care of but needs constant follow up. Where legislation does not exist, AACCU encourages the acceptance of World Council of Credit Unions’ accounting standards. Hettiarachchi, who has headed AACCU for the last 11 years, is himself a chartered accountant, the local term for a certified public accountant. The second issue is outreach to the poor. Micro-financing was the buzz word for development agencies in the 1990s. Hettiarachchi realizes that credit unions are not only for poor people, but serving this group fulfills their social responsibilities. AACCU tries to work with international help groups including the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), Agriterra, Canadian Co-operative Association, Cordaid, Credit Union Foundation Australia and the Japan Foundation. But sometimes the helper becomes the competition. “We also recognized the competition from microfinance institutions in these countries. There is more than one way to help the poor. What services AACCU provides in each country depends on the stage of development. Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Mongolia are still in the early developments stage. Credit unions in these countries need more training about credit union infrastructure, the functioning of board of directors, planning and products and services. Philippines, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea are in what Hettiarachchi calls the consolidation phase. “These countries need support on products and services innovation, policy and standards development, of course continuous training. Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore are more sophisticated in their operation need more international linkages, technology and product innovation. Training is a major part of their program. AACCU held its sixth Asian Development Education program in partnership with the Credit Union Foundation of Australia in June 2004. The working language for most of these sessions is English. Credit union employees and volunteers worked on presentation and teamwork skills, understanding social issues affecting growth and cultural issues. Three full time trainers work for AACCU to work on all training issues but rely heavily on the “train the trainer” concept. The total staff is seven people based in Bangkok with 22 project staff located in offices in the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Nepal. Together they help credit unions throughout the region will all phases of credit union management. -

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