Representatives Travel to Panama to Advance the International Credit Union Movement
Representatives of ICUL learn how credit unions in Panama are regulated at IPACOOP, Panama's credit union regulator.
Des Moines, IA — Six representatives from the Iowa
credit union movement and World Council of Credit
Unions, Inc. (WOCCU) traveled to Panama Aug.
28-Sept. 1 to establish an international "People
to People Partnership" exchange that will help
strengthen the Panamanian credit union movement.
Those participating included: Patrick S. Jury,
Iowa Credit Union League (ICUL) Vice President;
Murray Williams, ICUL Director of Strategic
Alliances & Public Affairs; Jan Dietzenbach, ICUL
Management Consultant; Patrick Drennen, ICUL 2nd
Vice Chair and 1st Gateway Credit Union CEO,
Camanche, IA; Mark Kilian, Community Business
Lenders CEO; and Victor Corro, WOCCU International
Partnership Manager, Madison, WI.
"Our goal with this partnership is to champion the
credit union philosophy of people helping people
by providing assistance on an international
level," Jury said. "We learned a lot from our
friends in Panama during our first visit, and
hopefully we provided them with new ideas for
their credit unions in return."
To begin their visit, the Iowa credit union
delegation met with the staff of COFEP – the
Panama credit union trade organization – to learn
more about each other and develop the groundwork
for a long-term partnership. While Panama has a
sound credit union movement in place, they are
working to develop a more structured regulatory
system, Jury said.
"In the United States, credit unions are a product
of the legislative and regulatory process, so we
have much experience in that arena," he said.
"COFEP told us this is one area where Iowa could
provide them with counsel and support."
Jacinto Villarreal, CEO, COFEP and Jan Dietzenbach, Managment Consultant, ICUL
The Iowa contingent next conducted a four-hour
education session with approximately 100
Panamanian credit union representatives on their
second day. Topics presented included: an overview
of the Iowa credit union movement and ICUL
governance structure; the importance of a sound
regulatory environment; the role of volunteer
boards of directors, how to engage in legislative
advocacy, how to structure new business
development, the role of credit union consulting;
and an overview of member business lending.
On the final day, the group met with Panama's
regulator for cooperatives (which also regulates
the country's credit unions) to discuss the need
for regulatory reform and visited five Panamanian
credit unions of various sizes.
"I was fascinated by how similar the challenges
are for credit unions in both the U.S. and
Panama," Drennen said. "Though Panamanian credit
unions are earlier in their evolution than we are
in the U.S., their issues and goals are in line
with what we see in Iowa credit unions."
During the exchange the Iowa delegation also
visited the Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal
and received an exclusive tour of the canal's
operations. "It was impressive to see that the
Canal, now under Panama control, is still being
operated with the same engineering design with
which it was opened in 1914," noted Corro. "While
at Miraflores Locks, the delegation was able to
take control and raise two ships from Pacific sea
level to Caribbean sea level."
COFEP and ICUL are now working to formalize their
partnership and establish immediate and long-term
goals for the relationship. Ongoing dialogue is
planned and a international Webinar is in the
works with the ICUL presenting to Panama credit
unions via the Internet. A contingent from COFEP
and Panama credit unions are also planning an Iowa
visit in early 2006.
COFEP was formed in 1985 by U.S. credit unions in
the Panama Canal Zone in order to provide a
stabilization fund, guarantee fund and consulting
for credit unions to preserve their financial
well-being and the savings of their members.
Currently, 84 Panama credit unions belong to
COFEP, which represents 112,000 of the 135,000
credit union members of those who live Panama.
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.