BRUSSELS, Belgium — Europe's credit unions made headway last week as champions in providing basic services to the financially underserved thanks to efforts by World Council of Credit Unions' (WOCCU) European Network of Credit Unions (ENCU). Meetings with European Union (EU) parliamentarians and the European Commission, part of ENCU's annual lobbying efforts, resulted in an invitation for credit unions to participate in a commission hearing on financial inclusion in January.
In addition to financial inclusion, the topics of transparency of account fees and anti-money-laundering rules were part of discussions in Brussels among credit union participants and lawmakers. In addition to WOCCU, participants represented credit union movements in Estonia, Ireland, Poland, Romania and the United Kingdom.
"The meetings with lawmakers were essential to ensuring that credit unions' unique structure and commitment to the social and economic wellbeing of their members is recognized within draft legislation, subsequently creating regulatory environments that enable, rather than inhibit credit unions from achieving the spirit of the law," said Brian Branch, WOCCU president and CEO.
In addressing financial inclusion, EU lawmakers have considered allowing member states to designate at least one financial provider per jurisdiction in EU countries, which would be required to offer basic payment accounts to financially excluded citizens at a reasonable cost. In light of such considerations, the credit union representatives present highlighted histories of successfully providing affordable, tailored financial products and services to rural, low-income and financially excluded individuals. As a result, credit union participants were among the few financial industry representatives invited to participate in the parliament's Internal Market and Consumer Affairs Committee hearing on financial inclusion to be held in Brussels on January 25.
In addition to supporting policymakers' financial inclusion efforts, the credit union representatives also expressed their support of legislation requiring account fees to be disclosed in ways both transparent and meaningful to consumers. Regarding anti-money-laundering rules, representatives asked for less burdensome reporting requirements and certain flexibility on identity verification of individuals in remote areas. Although credit union disclosure practices and adherence to anti-money-laundering efforts already align with commission requirements, participants agreed that on-going advocacy efforts are critical in ensuring that legislation and regulation avoid becoming so arduous that they compromise the policy objectives of financial inclusion.
"While financial inclusion is a hot topic of debate amongst EU policymakers today, it is a topic that European credit unions have lived and breathed throughout their history," said WOCCU Director Brian McCrory, who also serves on the board of the Irish League of Credit Unions. "I am glad to see that our cooperative advocacy efforts have been fruitful in gaining the opportunity to advocate on our members' and potential members' behalves at the EU policy level in January, and I am hopeful that such efforts will result in a more holistic approach to financial inclusion."
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, 51,000 credit unions in 100 countries serve 196 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.