Credit unions worldwide benefit when they are able to bring a simple message spoken in a unified voice to lawmakers, Iowa Credit Union League President and CEO Patrick S. Jury told seminar participants from credit unions in Panama.
PANAMA CITY, Panama — Credit unions in Panama are concerned that government regulations not specifically designed to address financial cooperatives' unique nature could raise further challenges for an industry already struggling with growth and the ability to provide competitive services to members. Executives and staff from the Iowa Credit Union League (ICUL) have pledged to help their Central American counterparts vault this hurdle to better serve Panamanian consumers.
Stressing the need for greater unity, a delegation of officials representing ICUL and three Iowa credit unions traveled to Panama last week to participate in the fourth International Seminar on Best Practices and Credit Union Operations, which addressed a variety of challenges facing Panama's credit unions. The meeting was the latest event in the ongoing relationship between ICUL and Corporación Fondo de Estabilización y Garantía de Cooperativas de Ahorro y Crédito de Panamá, R.L. (COFEP), brought together in 2005 through World Council of Credit Unions' (WOCCU) International Partnerships Program. This year's meeting included participation from Congreso Nacional de Cooperativas de Panama, the country's national cooperative trade association with which COFEP last year formed an alliance to enable cooperatives of all kinds to speak with Panama's lawmakers in a unified voice.
"ICUL has made significant contributions to WOCCU's International Partnership Program even beyond its six-year relationship with Panama," said Victor Miguel Corro, WOCCU senior manager in charge of the program. "Iowa's involvement and leadership clearly shows how beneficial the Partnerships Program can be to credit unions in developing countries."
ICUL and WOCCU both have assisted COFEP's efforts to seek credit union-specific legislation and establish shared branching for its credit unions since the beginning of the partnership. ICUL delegates this year focused on ways to build a coalition to better realize its benefits in supporting COFEP's efforts. Topic discussions included the collaborative benefits of forming for-profit ventures to help mitigate risk and share rewards among partners while alleviating reliance on the banking industry, according to Patrick S. Jury, ICUL president and CEO.
"Iowa's role is to help COFEP with its efforts to create unity and collaboration among the Panamanian credit unions in order to move the industry forward," said Jury. "By sharing our examples we hope to give COFEP additional tools and support needed to enhance its system."
Presentations on advocacy, regulation and risk management were given by Iowa credit union representatives to a crowd of more than 50 Panamanian credit union attendees during the day-long seminar. ICUL staff members Murray Williams, COO, and Emily Oliver, marketing and public affairs director, spoke to the group about the importance of grassroots lobbying efforts and maintaining a consistent advocacy message. The pair also discussed consensus and cohesion as the building blocks of an effective advocacy campaign, helping Panama's credit unions better understand the need for taking a unified approach toward critical regulatory issues, according to Jacinto Villarreal, COFEP CEO.
"We are in a crucial moment in Panama; the movement needs to unite to face growth and regulation challenges," Villarreal said. "I'm glad that WOCCU and ICUL are our allies in this fight."
In addition to the workshops, the seminar also featured what has become an annual panel of Iowa credit union CEOs. Panel participants from Iowa credit unions included ICUL Chair Pat Drennen, CEO of 1st Gateway Credit Union, Camanche; ICUL Director Tim Wallen, CEO of Ace Community Credit Union, Ames; and ICUL Director Joe Gonzalez, vice president of Alliant Credit Union, Dubuque. Discussion topics included credit union regulation, risk management and asset growth.
"Working with COFEP and Panamanian credit unions is always such a rewarding and valuable experience," said Drennen. "The Panamanian credit union movement is vibrant and has many great opportunities that will benefit thousands of Panamanians. I'm honored to be a part of it by providing best practices from my credit union and our industry."
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 103 countries serve 208 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.