HONG KONG—Can credit union philosophy successfully co-exist with competitive member service? According to a lively debate between two credit union chief executive officers during a general session at World Council of Credit Unions' (WOCCU) World Credit Union Conference, superior service can't exist without a philosophical commitment. Nor should it.
CUNA & Affiliates Chairman Tom Dorety, president/CEO of Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union, Tampa, Fla., U.S.A., and Phylip Doughty, CEO of mecu, Ltd., Australia, took on credit union philosophy and a host of other topics during Tuesday's debate at the Hong Kong Convention & Exposition Centre. Marlene Shiels, chief executive of Capital Credit Union in Edinburgh, Scotland, posed questions and moderated the discussion before a crowd of 1,300 attendees from 48 countries.
The global financial situation bore some debate, including the varied impact it's having on U.S. credit unions, which Dorety said have seen a distinct downturn in lending, and in Australia where, Doughty said, "business is booming."
"There are three reasons large credit unions should be cognizant of financial trends," said Dorety in his opening salvo. "There's the social part—we're supposed to look after all members. There's the political part—U.S. laws tell us to provide services to members of modest means. And there's the financial part—credit unions have the capability to offer services to people at all income levels.
"In the end, it just makes sense to provide good service to all members," he added.
There was also considerable discussion about demutualization, an issue with apparently more equitable outcomes for members of demutualizing Australian credit unions than for members of similar size U.S. credit unions going that route. Dorety disclosed that based on his research he and his board would stand to make substantial sums if US$6.2 billion Suncoast Schools demutualized, although that has never been considered by the credit union. Additional shares would then be offered for sale to members, an approach distinctly different than that taken in Australia, where profits from demutualization are shared with members.
"It's incomprehensible to think that a U.S. credit union board of directors could give away their credit union assets for personal gain, then offer to sell back to the members something they already own," said a flabbergasted Doughty.
The issue of "greening" credit unions also came up, an area in which mecu and other Australian credit unions excel. At mecu, Doughty said, staff works hard to reduce carbon emissions, plants 700 trees per year and even mulches food scraps from the credit union cafeteria. Such efforts are not only the right thing to do, but also comprise a good business strategy according to Doughty.
"If the price of your products is right, you offer great service and you're looking after the environment, members will come to you," he said.
Dorety agreed, noting that environmental consciousness was part of the credit union difference, especially for the younger generation. (That concept was supported later that day during breakout comments on serving Generation Y by Ryan Visscher of Canada's Envision Credit Union.)
"We spend a lot of time preaching that difference," said Dorety. "If you can convince members there truly is a difference, they will care, especially the young ones."
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, 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.