GLASGOW, Scotland — A nod to the past, a focus on the future and a changing of the guard among both staff and volunteer leadership set the parameters for the 2011 World Credit Union Conference, World Council of Credit Unions' (WOCCU) annual event. More than 1,700 participants from 62 countries descended on Glasgow, which has the United Kingdom's highest concentration of credit unions, for what has become the world's largest international credit union gathering.
Flags of those 62 nations, including first-time appearances by Afghanistan and Haiti, unfurled in parade on Sunday to help open the conference, co-hosted by WOCCU member the Association of British Credit Unions Ltd. (ABCUL) at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre. Colorful costumes and lively conversations mixed with the music of the Red Hot Chilli Pipers to bring the enthusiasm and energy of the opening ceremonies to a fever pitch.
"It's great to see so many of you here," said WOCCU Chair Barry Jolette, president and CEO of San Mateo Credit Union, Redwood City, Calif., USA, in his welcoming remarks. "World Council is a remarkable organization that does incredible things to change people's lives. You all are a part of that effort in helping your own members."
Jolette, who ends his two-year term as chair, is one of two WOCCU leaders stepping down at this year's conference. Credit union industry veteran Pete Crear, who has led WOCCU as its president and CEO since 2005, is retiring following the event. The baton will be passed to current WOCCU Executive Vice President and COO Brian Branch in a public ceremony scheduled during Monday's general session.
Antony MacRow-Wood, board president for co-host organization ABCUL, welcomed participants with the good news that the United Kingdom's parliament is removing the barriers to credit union service and is in the process of enacting new laws that will allow the country's post offices to serve as credit union branches.
"We have taken our inspiration from many of you here today, and the new laws should be enacted by Christmas," MacRow-Wood said.
Attendees in Glasgow this year also are helping WOCCU celebrate its 40th anniversary. The trade association opened its doors Jan. 1, 1971, and has grown to 43 organizational members representing 54 countries. The anniversary and Crear's retirement will be celebrated during the conference's closing events Wednesday night.
The importance of credit unions and the magnitude of this year's conference have not been lost on either the Scottish people or its government, according to Fergus Ewing, Scotland's minister of energy, enterprise and tourism and one of two government officials who welcomed attendees Sunday.
"We need credit unions now more than ever," Ewing said. "The Scottish people have a proud tradition of credit unions, and the Scottish government will continue to support credit unions for the good work that they do on behalf of members."
Prior to Sunday's opening, WOCCU held several other meetings for various credit union groups, including the third annual Forum sponsored by WOCCU's Global Women's Leadership Network. More than 60 women credit union leaders from around the globe gathered to network, attend educational sessions and hear from various speakers, including radio broadcaster Liz Barclay, host of You and Yours, a program devoted to money and finance that airs on BBC4.
Participants in WOCCU's Young Credit Union People (WYCUP) program also held their networking session Sunday afternoon, the first of several sessions devoted to meeting the needs of credit union professionals and volunteers age 35 years and under. Five of the program's participants will be chosen to receive WYCUP scholarships, winning all-expenses-paid trips to the 2012 World Credit Union Conference in Gdańsk, Poland, next July.
WOCCU's World Credit Union Conference continues through Wednesday, July 27.
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.