HONG KONG—Global economic and social uncertainty bring with them the opportunity for credit unions to prosper through increased service to more members. Add to that the movement's transparency and responsibility to those members and it's clear credit unions will continue thriving by doing the right things for the right reasons, according to World Council of Credit Unions' (WOCCU) chief executive and a former and still influential U.S. legislator.
Pete Crear, WOCCU's president and chief executive officer and former U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, co-author of the famous Sarbanes-Oxley legislation mandating increased financial accountability from publicly held companies, opened Monday's educational sessions at WOCCU's World Credit Union Conference at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre. The pair shared insights and observations on why credit unions remain among the best and most ethical member-service alternatives.
"History has shown us that the stability offered by credit unions in both developed and developing nations can help buoy struggling populations and set unsettled economies on a more even keel," Crear told more than 1,300 attendees from 48 countries gathered for the annual event. "Countries whose populations formerly were characterized only by groups of ‘have-nots' and ‘have-mores' have achieved greater economic balance through credit union development, enabling people to support their families and approaching a social equanimity that can lead to peace and relative prosperity."
Credit unions worldwide have helped foster a "new age" as global economic realignment is altering the strength and prosperity of many nations. Developing countries especially have made great strides economically and socially, Crear said, creating broader free-market access in which more people are able to participate. Credit union movements in many countries have helped stabilize economies and foster growth, he added.
Citing evidence from WOCCU's newly released 2007 Statistical Report, Crear noted that credit unions have continued to grow, with more than 49,000 credit unions serving more than 177 million people worldwide last year. That's an increase from 46,000 credit unions serving 172 million members the year before, an increase that shows that the credit union ideal is working.
Sarbanes, who was introduced by CUNA & Affiliates president and CEO Dan Mica, himself a former Florida legislator, supported Crear's assessment, noting that credit unions' transparency and accountability can serve as lessons to other financial service providers. The former Maryland senator also had a strong response to Crear's "state of the credit union movement" address, including examples of credit unions in post-conflict environments like Afghanistan, where employees put themselves at physical risk to serve members.
"I was very moved by Pete Crear's outline of what credit unions worldwide are doing," Sarbanes said. "I think credit union principles are basic and fundamental and I commend you for holding to your principles when there is so much pressure to stray from the path."
The former legislator also drew a connection between the tenets of Sarbanes-Oxley legislation and credit union principles. Service to members and the accountability such service demands falls in line which the legislation's mandate, he added.
"Credit unions' focus is always on its members. That's your purpose and your mission, and that's why I've been so supportive of credit unions over the years," Sarbanes added. "That's also what makes your mission of ‘quality credit unions for everyone' so important."
The World Credit Union Conference, an annual event organized by WOCCU and its host member countries, runs through July 16.
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.