CORDOBA, Mexico—Two of North America's most innovative credit unions may pair up through the World Council of Credit Unions' (WOCCU) International Partnerships Program. The proposed partnership would be the first time a Canadian credit union has individually participated in the program with an institution in another country. Should it go forward, the institutions would be separated only by a country, a common language and a dramatic difference in asset sizes.
Officials from both Servus Credit Union in Alberta, Canada, and Caja Popular de Ahorros Yanga, S.C. de A.P. de R.L. de C.V., better known as Caja Yanga, in Veracruz, Mexico, agree that none of those differences will impede the two-way flow of lessons in transaction technology, management strategies and credit union philosophy the institutions will share as part of the new relationship. The fact that Servus Credit Union has assets of nearly CN$10 billion (about US$8 billion) and Caja Yanga has assets of 300 million pesos (about US$20 million) strengthens the relationship through exposure to different approaches the two financial cooperatives bring to member service.
"As your credit union grows larger it can sometimes be a challenge to maintain your co-operative roots," said Steve Blakely, Servus Credit Union's president and CEO. "At Servus Credit Union we believe deeply in our roots and that being a credit union makes a difference to the members we serve. Caja Yanga continues to help members through innovative delivery channels and services and products designed to fit its members. We were very impressed with its approach and success in growing their membership, particularly in the youth service area."
Caja Yanga has taken an additional member-service step outside of its partnership role to pilot WOCCU's MatchSavings.org. The online program allows people around the world to match the small savings of individual Caja Yanga members through a dedicated Website. By helping Caja Yanga members save for things like housing, microenterprise, education and healthcare expenses, MatchSavings.org participants are helping the credit union's poorest members build savings habits as a first step toward overcoming poverty. (For more information, visit www.MatchSavings.org.)
Servus Credit Union is the first Canadian credit union to explore a direct credit union-to-credit union partnership under the WOCCU's Partnerships program. The program usually pairs credit union leagues, federations or corporate credit unions in Canada and the U.S. with their counterparts in developing countries. As an initial step, the two partner credit unions last week met in Cordoba, Ver., Mexico, to examine Caja Yanga's outreach to rural communities and the success of WOCCU's PATMIR II project funded by the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fishing and Food (SAGARPA). The project has helped Caja Yanga grow its membership and strengthen its role as a financial institution.
The Servus delegation traveled from village to village to witness how Caja Yanga serves its members. Travels within the state of Veracruz were followed by a visit to the small community of El Moral where Caja Yanga has implemented WOCCU's semilla cooperativa ("cooperative seed") model. Members using the semilla cooperativa model form small groups of 10 to 20 people in their communities. Group members encourage each other to save and sometimes guarantee individual loans within the group.
Before Caja Yanga became involved, it was virtually impossible for El Moral's residents to receive credit or even open a savings account, since many residents have few financial resources and live far from the nearest city. To serve El Moral, Caja Yanga sends field officers to the small town armed with personal digital assistant (PDA) devices and handheld printers able to process financial transactions in real time. Caja Yanga provides the same service to more than 60 small communities around the state.
In addition to WOCCU staff members and Blakely, Servus Credit Union delegates visiting Caja Yanga included board member Penny Reeves, also a WOCCU board member; K. Wayne Cook, vice president of credit; and Mike Dickinson, senior manager of corporate communications. Reeves said they hope the partnership will encourage other Canadian credit unions to participate in the WOCCU partnerships program.
"We are proud to be the first Canadian credit union to have a direct peer in this cooperative program," Reeves said. "This experience is truly an opportunity for us to look back at our cooperative structure and see the true credit union difference. Caja Yanga exemplifies this difference in its savings mobilization in rural areas of Mexico where no other financial institution is present."
Servus Credit Union has invited Caja Yanga representatives to come to Alberta in the near future to review the Canadian credit union's operations and further expand the partnership, Reeves added.
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, 57,000 credit unions in 103 countries serve 208 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.