Joe Bergeron, president of the Association of Vermont Credit Unions (AVCU), and Michelle Fullerton, AVCU program services administrator, traveled to Peru last week to advise South America credit unions as they work to grow a startup ATM network.
Bergeron and Fullerton made the trip at the request of the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) (Newslines Express Oct. 1).
WOCCU called upon AVCU because it has operated its own ATM and debit card program and developed Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) knowledge for more than 15 years. Kuskanet is one of five similar WOCCU projects ongoing in Latin American countries.
Bergeron and Fullerton consulted with managers and operations personnel from the Kuskanet ATM network at the Federacion Nacional de Cooperativas de Ahorro y Credito del Peru (FENACREP) offices and at select Kuskanet credit union locations in Lima and Ayacucho.
Peru's credit unions are politically locked out of regional and national EFT networks. As a result, prior to the creation of Kuskanet, credit unions could issue plastic cards, but members had no place to use them. The startup ATM network, so named because "kuska" means "together," is owned by WOCCU, FENACREP and a handful of member credit unions.
"It's amazing what they're doing with the resources they have available to them, especially considering how they're politically blocked from accessing networks by big banks," Bergeron said. "Kuskanet hopes to change that dynamic and create competition with banks that will provide members with the same services that bank clients receive and will ultimately benefit all Peruvian consumers."
He noted that Kuskanet completely bypasses checking accounts. "Peru credit unions don't have checking accounts, so they're going direct to plastic cards for access to cash."
Because of the inability to access EFT networks, making the ATM cards debit-capable isn't an option right now, but Bergeron and Kuskanet said they hope to change that in the future. The long-term goal is to research possible alternatives to gain access to already existing remote access infrastructures.
Leading the trip and assisting the consulting efforts was Steve Schaefer, WOCCU manager of technical services. Schaefer oversees WOCCU's EFT projects in Peru and in other Latin American countries. AVCU is in its third year of a WOCCU international partnership with FENACREP and Peru's credit unions. Prior to the ATM network project, AVCU researched the possibility of developing a deposit insurance system for Peru's credit unions, with Bergeron providing testimony to a committee of Peru's national congress.
Representatives from AELUCOOP credit union will visit Vermont next week to sign a partnership agreement with Vermont FCU, Burlington. AELUCOOP, the second largest credit union in Peru, has a membership that is predominantly Japanese.
The same is true of ABACO, the largest Peruvian credit union, which is in a WOCCU partnership with Heritage Family FCU, Rutland. Early in 2011, representatives from Pacifico CU will travel to Vermont to establish a partnership with NorthCountry FCU, South Burlington.