ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Global credit union trends, including a look at the success of social media in promoting Bank Transfer Day in the United States, formed the focal points of presentations given by members of a World Council of Credit Unions delegation who spoke at the sixth Russian Credit Union Forum, held last week in St. Petersburg.
The three-day event, hosted by the Russian Credit Union League, a World Council member, attracted participants and speakers from throughout Eastern Europe, the U.S. and Ireland. While many issues were specific to Russian credit unions, several themes emerged that pose universal challenges for credit unions everywhere, according to Brian Branch, World Council's president and CEO who led the delegation.
"The global credit union movement has made significant strides during the past few years and in the wake of the global financial crisis," said Branch, who offered an international credit union perspective to attendees as part of the event's opening plenary session. "The ability to keep pace with market growth and meet emerging issues head-on remains the challenge facing credit unions everywhere."
In addition to Branch, the U.S. delegation included World Council Second Vice Chair Anne Cochran, president and CEO of the Louisiana Credit Union League; Rod Taylor, president and CEO of Barksdale Federal Credit Union, Bossier City, La.; and Eric Richard, executive vice president and general counsel for Credit Union National Association (CUNA), World Councils' U.S. member. The Russian and Louisiana leagues have been paired as part of the World Councils' International Partnership Program since 2007. In addition, Barksdale FCU is partnered with Russia's Altai Credit Union Association, further strengthening the tie among the organizations.
In addition to Branch's perspective, Cochran spoke about the role played by credit union trade associations in helping build their members' identities in the marketplace. She also addressed the rise of new technologies and provided her own perspective on U.S. credit union practices. Taylor participated in a panel that looked at ways to attract youth members to credit unions, a perennial challenge for credit unions around the world.
The importance credit unions play in a free-market economy and social media's role in fostering credit union growth became the focus of Richard's session. The CUNA executive discussed the origins of Bank Transfer Day and how it grew from a social movement into a significant win for U.S. credit unions.
"I have been asked to speak to you about why Americans are switching from banks to credit unions," Richard said. "Perhaps the greater mystery is why more Americans didn't take this step much sooner."
The global economic crisis, which began in the fall of 2008, caused financial hardships for countries worldwide, particularly the U.S. The role of commercial banks in fostering the crisis has been well-documented, which gave credit unions a growing market advantage and began increasing member growth. The dissatisfaction of California art gallery owner Kristen Christian with a US$5 monthly debit card fee imposed by Bank of America led to a call on social media outlet Facebook for consumers to move their accounts from banks to credit unions on Nov. 5, 2011.
Bank Transfer Day joined with Occupy Wall Street and other movements to reflect consumer dissatisfaction with banks and other commercial financial interests. Christian's Facebook campaign is credited with helping increase U.S. credit union growth in 2011 by 1.3 million members, more than double the 600,000 who joined during the previous year, Richard told his Russian audience.
"Bank Transfer Day has truly proven to the credit union movement how much impact one individual can have through the power of social networking," said Richard. "Credit Unions hopefully will continue to see positive growth from additional deposits and new members throughout 2012 and beyond, which should help strengthen the credit union movement both in the U.S. and internationally."
World Council of Credit Unions is the global trade association and development agency for credit unions. World Council promotes the sustainable development of credit unions and other financial cooperatives around the world to empower people through access to high quality and affordable financial services. World Council advocates on behalf of the global credit union system before international organizations and works with national governments to improve legislation and regulation. Its technical assistance programs introduce new tools and technologies to strengthen credit unions' financial performance and increase their outreach.
World Council has implemented more than 290 technical assistance programs in 71 countries. Worldwide, 57,000 credit unions in 103 countries serve 208 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.