ANTIGUA, Guatemala — Guatemala's credit unions would like to have a single shared branching system that could receive remittance funds transferred from credit unions in the United States, and representatives from credit unions and organizations in California and Nevada are helping examine such a program's feasibility under the auspices of World Council of Credit Unions' (WOCCU) International Partnerships Program.
Representatives from WOCCU, the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues and Financial Service Centers Cooperative (FSCC), a WOCCU associate member organization, met in Guatemala last week to consider ways in which the country's existing national shared branching system could link with a similar system in the U.S. The California and Nevada Leagues have partnered with WOCCU member Federación Nacional de Cooperativas de Ahorro y Crédito (FENACOAC), Guatemala's credit union trade association, as part of the International Partnerships Program since 2009. Representatives from each group participated in discussions about the possible link, as well as other key topics, during the recent visit.
"Such a link would provide ease, convenience and greater economy for Guatemalan workers in the U.S. who want to send money to relatives back home," said Oswaldo Oliva, CEO of FENACOAC. "With a direct link between U.S. credit unions and Guatemala's shared branching system, FENACOAC hopes to change the perception of credit unions as the 'poor man's bank' to that of institutions that provide modern services and a safe and sound system that addresses many financial needs."
FENACOAC represents 27 credit unions that hold more than 80 percent of assets and total membership, which recently topped the one-million-member mark. The association has been using the system-wide Mi Coope ("My Credit Union") brand to differentiate financial cooperatives from other types of Guatemalan cooperatives. In addition, all FENACOAC credit unions share the same core operating system and participate in a national shared branching network.
FENACOAC estimates that approximately 1.2 million Guatemalans have emigrated north for work, with California being the key destination. Every year $3.7 billion is sent home to Guatemala from the U.S. In the interest of developing more services for its member credit unions, FENACOAC sees shared branching as a natural and more cost effective option, enabling credit unions in both countries to send and receive remittances and wire transfers.
In addition to FENACOAC's Oliva, participants in the three-day planning meeting included FSCC Chair Steven Stapp, CEO of San Francisco (Calif.) Federal Credit Union; FSCC's Nathan Rodgers, vice president of marketing, and Amanda Smith, vice president of innovation; and WOCCU's Victor Miguel Corro, senior manager of partnerships and training, and Steve Schaefer, technical services manager. In addition to the meeting, the group traveled to both Antigua and Guatemala City and visited three credit unions.
"FSCC is so grateful to have been included in this endeavor with FENACOAC, WOCCU, and the California and Nevada Leagues," said Rogers. "We were very impressed with the integration and collaboration among the credit unions of Guatemala. We look forward to helping the movements of Guatemala and the U.S. work more closely together through shared branching."
The meeting was capped by the development of a work plan. It is expected that all involved parties will sign a memorandum of understanding soon to get the project underway, and hopefully start 2012 with an international shared branching link between Guatemala and the U.S.
"In visiting the branch locations, I got a real sense of how important the credit unions are to the community and in helping the members improve their lives," Stapp said. "I have a renewed sense of responsibility in helping Guatemala's credit unions support their 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, 51,000 credit unions in 100 countries serve 196 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.