MORELIA, Mexico—In an effort to expand efficient and secure financial services to people living in rural, marginalized areas of Mexico, World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) has teamed with Caja Morelia Valladolid, one of Mexico's largest credit unions, in a pilot project to utilize personal digital assistants (PDAs) to perform financial transactions during field visits to their members.
The PDAs (handheld computers) enable credit union field officers to transmit account data through cell phone towers to the credit union's central database in real time while visiting members in remote rural communities. The new technology reduces the risk of error in manual record keeping on field visits, helps provide faster, more secure service and builds member trust.
"In rural areas of Mexico, people have few options for access to financial services," said Brian Branch, WOCCU's executive vice president and chief operating officer. "Branch offices and ATMs do not have the population density or infrastructure to support them, but cell phone signals extend deep into the rural areas. The use of PDAs enables the credit unions to reach much deeper into the rural areas to provide financial services to people who have previously never had access."
Field officers previously recorded transactions manually in Caja Morelia's accounting books and in members' passbooks, then took the records back to the credit union to process. Through PDA technology, handheld printers immediately produce receipts while member accounts are updated in real time. PDA applications shorten transaction times, which reduce the length of waiting time for members and enable credit union representatives to serve more people during field visits.
The technology, introduced in November, is a new addition to the semilla cooperativa (cooperative seed) rural outreach methodology WOCCU pioneered in the states of Michoacan, where Morelia is located, and Veracruz five years ago with funding from the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fishing and Food (SAGARPA). An additional US$24.8 million from SAGARPA's Proyecto de Asistencia Técnica al Microfinanciamiento Rural (PATMIR) project has allowed WOCCU to expand its successful outreach approach to rural markets through 55 credit unions in 22 Mexican states.
Through semilla cooperativa, credit unions train rural field officers from the area to regularly provide credit union services to communities up to 30 km. (19 mi.) from branch offices. The service approach involves attracting new members, extending financial education, approving small loan applications and bringing credit, savings and remittance services directly to people living in remote rural areas. It is the first of its kind offered by Mexico's financial institutions. The program allows rural members to save money on transportation and put more time and resources into income-generating activities rather than spending a day traveling to the nearest branch office. The PDAs are designed to make the service more efficient and secure.
"The PDAs will help credit unions minimize the risk that exists in providing this service by transmitting data to the financial institution online so that field officers can see members' up-to-date balances in their accounts," explained Luis Jara, director of WOCCU's program in Mexico. "The field officer also reduces personal risk by not having to transport as much money among the communities."
WOCCU plans to increase its PDA distribution to the other credit unions participating in the program over the next year. The technology will enable representatives to reach people from more than 11,000 villages in 22 states. The WOCCU program also will implement the use of point-of-sale (POS) devices in semilla cooperativa communities in the coming year, allowing members and field officers to make credit union deposits at local shops and outlets. The POS devices also further reduce the field officers' risk of transporting funds and will allow members to access their accounts on a daily basis in their own communities.
"The field officers' services are becoming even more valuable to the communities they serve," Jara said. "The new technology will enable credit unions to more efficiently and effectively serve the growing ranks of rural members."
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, 56,000 credit unions in 101 countries serve 200 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.