QUITO, Ecuador—After a productive eight-year partnership supporting Ecuador's credit unions, the Credit Union Associations of Colorado and Wyoming believe the Latin American country's financial cooperatives have made significant strides in service capabilities. According to John Dill, president and CEO of the two associations, Ecuador's credit unions have shown sufficient development to operate more independently and with an eye to greater growth.
"Ecuadorian credit unions are pioneering many cutting edge services for their members," said Dill, who in June visited with Red Transaccional Cooperativa (RTC), the largest credit union network in Ecuador, to assess progress and to help the Ecuadorian movement identify additional opportunities for growth. The associations have been working with Ecuador's credit unions and service providers since 2000 through World Council of Credit Unions' (WOCCU's) International Partnerships Program.
Dill spent the first three days in Ecuador's capital city of Quito meeting with RTC executives, board members and member credit unions. The association executive also met with staff at Quito-based credit unions Cooprogreso and Coopad to review the services RTC offers its member credit unions. Dill was asked to assess the strengths, weaknesses, challenges and opportunities he saw while visiting the institutions.
"There is a need for Ecuador's credit union movement to begin building a strong country-wide trade association in order to advance the business and advocacy interests of the movement in Ecuador and to safeguard the many forward strides that credit unions have made in just a short time," Dill said.
For more than 10 years, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has funded WOCCU programs in Ecuador to help modernize the credit union industry. The programs have focused on improving the regulatory environment, strengthening credit unions through WOCCU's model credit union approach, developing demand-driven products and services and most recently establishing networks among credit unions through the use of technology. With the USAID-funded programs coming to a close, Dill's positive assessment of the credit unions' capabilities in Ecuador is even more critical to their survival.
RTC allows its credit union members to access many mainstream and modern financial products crucial to competing in today's market. Those services include remittances, national shared branching, payment services, ATMs and debit card services. RTC is also able to offer its credit unions international shared branching, making it the first Latin American credit union movement with the capability to directly serve credit union members working in the United States. The international shared branching project was accomplished through the partnership with help from Credit Union Service Centers, the Credit Union Associations of Colorado and Wyoming, CO-OP Shared Branching, Ecuadorian software provider Multisoft and WOCCU.
Dill also traveled to south to Cuenca, Ecuador's third-largest city, to assess the use of RTC products in two other RTC credit unions: Juventud Ecuatoriana Progresista and Jardin Azuayo.
Dill evaluated the effectiveness of RTC's outreach program and its financial sustainability by evaluating the number of participating credit unions and their total points of service. Today, 29 of 38 regulated credit unions in Ecuador belong to RTC. Collectively, they offer members 154 countrywide points of service and about 3,000 more abroad. Dill reviewed RTC's success in terms of business goals achievement, the effectiveness of internal controls and its return on investment.
"Credit unions in Ecuador are relatively new institutions vis-à-vis American credit unions, and therefore are clearly focused on providing new alternative financial services to the average Ecuadorian who has largely been shut out of other institutions," Dill said. "As a result, membership growth is generally high, and the emotion and enthusiasm for the credit union model is inspiring to those of us who represent more mature credit union movements."
Before leaving Cuenca, Dill discussed an English Immersion Executive Program with credit union executives from Jardin Azuayo, a very progressive credit union currently involved in mobile banking and enhancing member services through the use of technology. Jardin Azuayo executives would like to visit other credit union systems to study state-of-the-art technology solutions. The idea for the program came from WOCCU's Hispanic Marketing Immersion Program, implemented last year to give U.S. credit union professionals the opportunity to immerse themselves in a Hispanic community to learn how to serve the segment more effectively. The English Immersion Executive Program would offer the same experience to foreign credit unions. A pilot program involving Colorado and possibly Wyoming credit unions is currently in the planning stages.
Victor Miguel Corro, WOCCU's International Partnerships manager who accompanied Dill, stressed the importance of having a different viewpoint as a way to uncover weaknesses and discover ways to improve. "It's very fulfilling to see cooperation in action," Corro said.
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.