BOGOTA, Colombia — Growing regulatory burdens and an increasing need for advocacy have led 11 of Colombia's 192 credit unions to form a new credit union trade association. The Asociación Colombiana de Cooperativas Financieras y de Ahorro y Crédito was established in December. The new association met this week with World Council of Credit Unions Chairman Manuel Rabines of Peru and World Council President and CEO Brian Branch.
The founding credit unions serve 600,000 members and control 30% of all credit union assets in Colombia, a country whose 192 credit unions serve 2.2 million members, or 7.5% of the population. The new organization represents a definitive step forward for Colombia's credit unions, according to Rabines, who is also president and CEO of Federación Nacional de Cooperativas de Ahorro y Crédito del Perú (FENACREP), World Council's member in Peru.
"Colombian credit unions have recovered their space from setbacks in the 1990s, and now there are credit unions with as much as US$400 million in assets and serving 300,000 members," Rabines said. "To organize an association is part of the process of integration, first among credit unions, then with their national cooperative federation and one day with World Council at the international level."
World Council has worked extensively in the past with Colombia's credit union movement, now 50 years old. Since 2003, the global credit union development agency has participated in four distinct programs to help strengthen Colombia's credit unions and help them grow, particularly in their outreach to poor population segments in rural areas.
In World Council's current program, launched in November 2011, the Colombian government invited the organization to replicate its Semilla Cooperativa [cooperative seed] rural outreach model, originally developed through a World Council program in Mexico, to expand financial inclusion in some of Colombia's most marginalized areas. World Council will train and equip credit union field officers to travel to remote communities to deliver services using mobile technology, helping to expand the existing credit union networks and reach rural people who formally had no access to financial services. The three-year, US$2.5 million program will employ mobile technology to bring financial services to 100,000 previously unbanked people in rural and low-income communities throughout the country.
The combination of continuing development efforts and the formation of a new trade association should give Colombia's credit unions the structure they need to grow and expand services, according to Branch.
"World Council has worked with many of these credit unions for several years now, so we are familiar with their leadership, their financial soundness and the quality of the services they provide," Branch said. "We are glad to see them organize and become part of the international community."
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, 56,000 credit unions in 101 countries serve 200 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.