SAN FRANCISCO — Credit unions are at the forefront of promoting financial inclusion among poor and remote population groups and should be considered a key resource by governments looking to increase financial service delivery to their populations. That was the message World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) brought to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), an organization of 21 countries bordering the Pacific Ocean that met at the invitation of the U.S Treasury Department last month to discuss economic development in their countries. WOCCU was one of only three private-sector organizations and the only one representing financial cooperatives invited to participate in the discussions.
APEC delegates gathered at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco February 23-24 to further work begun by the Group of 20 (G-20) nations to develop and refine financial inclusion programs in their own countries. Steps toward this goal include the measurement of gaps in service delivery, policy development and private sector engagement, and program execution and evaluation of results. Workshop participants also discussed policy options that ministries of finance could take to encourage greater usage of quality and affordable financial services among their entire populations.
With 16,417 credit unions already serving 124 million people throughout the APEC region, financial cooperatives are at the forefront of resources available to promote financial inclusion, according to Dave Grace, WOCCU senior vice president of association services, who participated in the meeting.
"In the APEC region ministries of finance now understand the critical role that credit unions can play in ensuring access and usage of financial services among the poor and under-banked," Grace said. "We also helped shape policy options that encourage financial inclusion, such as utilizing government benefit payments as a gateway product to the financial system and providing tax incentives to institutions active in the financial inclusion area."
APEC's roots took shape as a discussion group in 1989, and the APEC Secretariat was formally established in 1993 in Singapore. APEC member countries include Australia; Brunei Darussalam; Canada; Chile; the People's Republic of China; Hong Kong, China; Chinese Taipei; Indonesia; Japan; the Republic of Korea; Malaysia; Mexico; New Zealand; Papua New Guinea; Peru; the Republic of the Philippines; the Russian Federation; Singapore; Thailand; the United States and Vietnam.
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.