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June 23, 2006

Spirits High in Russia Where Credit Unions Face Challenges

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WOCCU's Jeff Merriam visits with representatives from eight credit unions, local government officials, media and the Kusbas Oblast (state) credit union association.

Washington, DC—At the request of the Russian Credit Union League, the World Council of Credit Unions, Inc. (WOCCU) deployed a three- member assessment team to Russia from June 1 to June 11 to assess the status of the country's 700 credit unions serving 400,000 members and the newly established three-tier credit union system. The team, made up of WOCCU senior manager Mark Cifuentes, WOCCU business development manager Jeff Merriam, and WOCCU volunteer and president of the Louisiana Credit Union League, Anne Cochran, visited St. Petersburg and Moscow together before splitting up to visit smaller cities and rural areas.

"We found many small and young credit unions," said Merriam. "The current law limits their ability to grow by setting membership limits. But despite their challenges, we found credit unions to be serving people on fixed incomes, students and the working poor, giving them access to financial services when the banks don't consider them to be worthy customers."

Regional credit union associations, explained Merriam, provide training to credit union staff, consult on methodologies, provide assistance with information systems and promote the credit union movement. The regional associations provide the link that allows the national-level Russian Credit Union League to gather information from and provide services to credit unions.

"A number of the credit union people we encountered during our visit demonstrated energy, purpose and no small dose of competence," said Merriam. "But organization is critical if the League is going to reach the many credit unions operating throughout this huge country. Indeed, the sheer size of Russia presents a major challenge to the three-tier structure of credit union management."

WOCCU now turns its attention to working with the Russian Credit Union League—WOCCU's newest association member—to develop a road map to lead to viability of the credit union movement in Russia, including making available specific WOCCU tools and training.

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


Contact: Rebecca Carpenter
Phone: +1-608-395-2031
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