Polish Credit Unions Continue to Make History
February 15, 2004
Madison, WI-As the third largest financial system in Poland, credit unions have been attacked by a banking lobby that seeks to limit their growth and range of services. Credit unions have seen this in many countries - with growth and competition typically comes resistance from the banking sector.
Last week the Polish National Association of Savings and Credit Unions (NACSCU) executive director, Grzegorz Bierecki; World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) chairman, L.R. (Bobby) Bobby McVeigh; and interim WOCCU CEO, Brian Branch, met with Leszek Balcerowicz, President of the National Bank, and Andrzej Jacaszek, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Finance. The team explained the importance of credit unions' ability to provide consumers with choice and lower cost services. Bierecki described the community development programs that Polish credit unions have instituted to serve their social mission. McVeigh explained to government officials, "This is the valued added of credit unions: the provision of lower cost choice for consumers and the social mission of service and community development."
Credit unions in Poland began as part of a nationalist approach to democratize both society and the economy after fifty years of foreign domination of Poland. A small group of young reformist leaders associated with Lech Walesa, the leader of the Solidarity movement, traveled to the United States, Canada and Ireland in 1990 to study credit unions. In 1992, the first Polish credit union was registered in the Gdansk heating plant. Three weeks later, Polish tax authorities seized the credit union's assets, only to release them upon finding everything in order and then started their own credit union a few months later.
In Poland today more than 109 credit unions serve approximately 1.2 million members. Credit unions provide consumers with a lower cost choice for financial services than the foreign owned commercial banks and the cooperative banks of the former communist system, and provide a full range of financial services. Credit unions reach more micro-entrepreneurs than do microfinance institutions in Poland.
The World Council, through a grant from USAID, provided financial support and technical assistance to help the Polish credit unions get started: an investment of 3 million dollars over 5 years, which has yielded a return of $US 900 million in assets. Today the Polish credit union system continues the development mission. As the Polish state expands its own foreign assistance programs, it has turned to the Polish credit union system to help generate employment and lend support to small and micro enterprises in Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia.
WOCCU and NACSCU have embarked upon a partnership to provide training and technical assistance to credit unions in the region.
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, 60,500 credit unions in 109 countries serve 223 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.