Many of the world's poor live in remote rural locations where access to financial services is severely restricted because of meager infrastructure. Where unpaved, pothole-ridden roads make it difficult to reach entire towns and where phone lines may never be laid, technology can dramatically change access. WOCCU is piloting technology solutions for traveling credit union agents to provide members with real-time access to their accounts in these hard-to-reach places through the USAID-funded Cooperative Development Program.
In Nicaragua, WOCCU is working with the Central de Cooperativas de Ahorrros y Credito de Nicaragua to teach credit unions to use personal digital assistant (PDA) technology accompanied by handheld printers. The new technology saves time for the credit union, eliminating data entry back at the credit union branch, and reduces the risk of error in manual record keeping during field visits. The PDA technology provides the member with a printed receipt of all real-time account transaction—savings deposits, balance inquiries and loan payments.
In Mexico, using the rural outreach methodology discussed in the paper Rural Outreach through Group Methodologies: Case Studies in Mexico, Peru and the Philippines, the PDA technology is enabling credit unions to delivery affordable financial services to marginalized rural communities. WOCCU's rural outreach methodology, Semilla Cooperativa [Cooperative Seed], employs credit union representatives astride motorcycles to deliver financial services to the country's rural poor. The program was initiated in 2003 and began using PDA devices in 2008, enabling representatives to conduct remote transactions and reconcile accounts in real time, improving both the efficiency and security of the process. According to the report, the three credit unions participating in the study saw dramatic increases in annualized growth rates and member participation.
In Brazil, WOCCU member SICREDI recently shared lessons learned about the implementation of their correspondent banking system, wherein retail (non credit union) agents utilize point-of-sale (POS) technology to provide access to credit union services in locations outside of the credit union branches. The POS technology enables the Brazilian credit unions to extend services beyond the walls and hands of the credit union staff, allowing greater access. Savings deposits have increased 25% between 2007 and 2008, total assets have increased by 50% and membership has increased by 14%.
While technology can provide vehicles to reach people in remote areas, enabling law and regulation are key components to creating an effective and thriving credit union environment in any country. Read more about credit union-specific legislation in Model Law for Credit Unions and credit union-specific regulation in the Model Regulations for Credit Unions.
For more information about WOCCU's Cooperative Development Program, please contact Catherine Ford, CDP manager, firstname.lastname@example.org.