CASTRIES, St. Lucia—Jonathan Elliot, CEO and manager of MemberFocus Community Credit Union in Dearborn, Mich., sees both similarities and differences between his state's credit unions and those on the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia. He also sees opportunities for both groups of institutions to learn valuable lessons from each other.
"We're all trying to educate our members about financial issues to help them save and think about the future, and the youth market is a concern for all of us," said Elliott, part of a recent seven-member Michigan Credit Union League delegation that visited St. Lucia Co-operative League Ltd. member organizations as part of World Council of Credit Unions' (WOCCU) International Partnerships Program. "The major difference has to do with a lack of financial transaction technology in St. Lucia. The availability of electronic services is just not there."
One of the delegation's goals was to work towards increasing technological capabilities by conducting a needs assessment of St. Lucia's credit unions during its visit to the island in March. A seminar on operational solutions, including technological ones, and a peer job-shadowing exchange also highlighted the visit. Participants found the differences between the two credit union systems sometimes striking.
"It's easy to take for granted the luxuries afforded to us," said Lauren Vance, marketing manager for Christian Financial Credit Union in Roseville, Mich. "Things like technology, innovation and sharing cooperative concepts characterize our industry at home, but not in St. Lucia. Visiting the island allowed me to play an active role in pushing our movement forward on a global scale."
In addition to Vance and Elliott, Michigan delegation participants in the weeklong visit included Bill Harvey, board chair for MemberFocus Community Credit Union; Kathleen Bennett, board vice chair, and Jan Rose, CEO of E&A Credit Union, Port Huron; Jim Kirk, director of business and community development for the University of Michigan Credit Union, Ann Arbor; and Martha Ninichuck, director of membership relations for the Michigan Credit Union League.
A daylong seminar on new product promotion, cooperative advertising, credit union consolidation, mergers and shared branching was a focal point of the visit. According to WOCCU's 2007 Statistical Report published in June 2008, St. Lucia's 15 credit unions serve more than 60,000 members. While mergers may be inevitable for the small system, shared branching offers real promise toward helping credit unions expand to reach more of the island's population, according to Victor Miguel Corro, senior manager of WOCCU's International Partnerships Program.
"Participants were very curious about shared branching and agreed that credit unions in St. Lucia should make a serious effort toward this goal," said Corro, who accompanied the delegation. "Shared branching may be the next logical step for this partnership to pursue."
The needs assessment during the visit identified a demand for more long-distance training, such as webinars, which can be attended for a relatively low cost. Alexander Joseph, CEO of the St. Lucia Co-operative League, identified financial education, budgeting practices and building a savings culture as webinar topics St. Lucia's credit unions would find useful.
"The St. Lucia Credit Union League and its members were pleased with the outcome of the visit," said Joseph. "The Michigan League was able to help us identify our most pressing needs and give us ideas as to how our collaborative efforts can help solve some of our problems. We look forward to continuing our mutually beneficial relationship"
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 105 countries serve 217 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.