As Victor Miguel Corro, WOCCU senior manager of international partnerships, and Jeff Hardin, NCCUL director of communications, speak with the credit union leaders of Romania a clear need is emerging - marketing and PR assistance. This need also extends to the Romanian Credit Union Federation, which represents 17 credit unions in the Eastern European nation.
Working with the World Council, the Federation and its affiliated credit unions have grown dramatically in the past several years and have built high levels of member trust. However, challenges abound - including the fact that nearly 3,000 credit unions in Romania lie outside the Federation, and operate with no government oversight and lack strong internal controls.
"We need for more people to understand how we are different from the other credit unions, and we need more credit unions outside the system to join the Federation," said Romanian Federation CEO Florin Simion, who has been a key player in helping the Romanian movement gain traction in the past decade. Simion linked up with WOCCU when it first made inroads into Romania in the late 1990s, and helped to set the stage for the growth and development of the credit unions aligned with the Federation.
Simion, Corro and Hardin visited two of these credit unions on Tuesday, November 17. The first stop was the St. Gheorghe Casa de Ajutor Recirpoc. A Casa de Ajutos Recirpoc or a CAR, "Mutual Help House" in Romanian, is the country's equivalent of a credit union. The visit included discussions with the manager and chairwoman of the 5,000 member credit union. "The clear need voiced by the staff was marketing and PR training," said Corro. While their members understood and appreciated how the credit union was different from banks, the staff noted that this message needed to be understood by a wider audience.
St Gheorghe CAR advertises on local radio and in newspapers, but seeks guidance on delivering more specific and impactful marketing messages.
Meanwhile, Fokkus CAR located in Targu Secuiesc also seeks marketing and PR strategies to enhance its already remarkable story. A local factory originally sponsored the credit union but later the credit union moved into its own building and changed its name. This strategy proved to be a wise one, as the factory eventually closed its doors.
Fokkus has grown steadily in the past decade, and has nearly 3,000 members in a town of just 20,000 people. When asked why the credit union had been so successful in building and keeping members, Manager Ildiko Croitoru replied simply,"They know us to be honest and that we will keep our word." Croitoru added that members valued this type of service since banks would often charge unnecessary fees to add to their profits.
Croitoru has overseen the implementation of PEARLS standards at Fokkus and has also returned to school to get an economics degree, which a requirement of the Federation. She closes the credit union early on Fridays so she can attend classes. "It's really impressive to see how the management and volunteers at the Romanian credit unions are so open to new ideas and dedicated to improving their operations," said Corro. "It's a clear sign that the movement here is really gaining traction."
Croitoru said as she looks ahead, that effective marketing and PR training is needed to help the credit union continue to grow, especially in its new branch location in a nearby village. Fokkus advertises in local newspapers and recently launched a website.
The need for a more visible presence through marketing and PR also extends to the Federation. In order to help the credit unions continue to grow and develop capacity, more affiliates need to be added and the credit unions need to lobby for legislative changes. "We haven't hit critical mass yet to approach the government and get the changes we need," said Simion.
Hardin will file a report to the Federation and WOCCU to assist in helping with marketing and PR at the Federation and individual credit unions. The week's activities are also geared toward laying the groundwork for a partnership agreement between the Romanian credit unions and a suitable league or credit union in the United States.
NCCUL currently has two partnerships in place via WOCCU International Partnership Program. The first is a long-standing partnership with the South American Country of Suriname, while the second is a partnership agreement with one of the largest credit unions in Mexico, Caja Morelia.