Our History

World Council of Credit Unions traces its roots to the humble beginning of credit unions in 19th century Europe. Franz Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch established the first credit unions in the 1850s in Germany to give those lacking access to financial services the opportunity to borrow from the savings pooled by themselves and their fellow members. Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen transported the financial cooperative concept to rural Germany a decade later.

The credit union idea expanded to North America early in the 20th century. Credit Union National Association (CUNA), the national association for credit unions in the United States, was founded in 1934. Twenty years later, Roy Bergengren, CUNA president and CEO, asked representatives to approve an overseas credit union assistance program that would expand the organization’s existing outreach to countries outside of North America.

The vote passed, and CUNA's World Extension Department came to life. Its purpose was to attack usury, one of the greatest abuses in developing countries, on a global scale. The department’s vision was to provide a simple, effective, yet potent weapon to improve people's economic situations.

In the 1950s, international credit union development programs emphasized community development. Programs had broad social, as well as economic objectives. Bergengren believed the department could work with several private and government funding agencies to foster credit unions as part of a wider program to create modern economies in less developed countries. The work of this office, in conjunction with the efforts of cooperative systems in Canada and Europe, led to the organization of credit unions in nearly all parts of the world over the next two decades.

Since the 1960s, the U.S. government has encouraged cooperative and credit union development through its foreign assistance legislation. The Foreign Assistance Act in 1961 was amended to encourage the development and use of cooperatives and credit unions in economically developing countries. The move was particularly important because of the formation of a new agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) within the State Department. USAID funded many of the department’s early credit union development activities. Between 1962 and 1970, credit union movements in the United States, Canada and Australia had generally started the systematic expansion of the international credit union movement. By the late 1960s, organizations from all over the world had joined to form the international credit union system that exists today.

World Council of Credit Unions was incorporated in the state of Wisconsin on Nov. 10, 1970, the result of a vote of confidence among national credit union associations throughout the world. It was a benchmark in history for the international movement and the culmination of a dream that had stirred enthusiasm in two generations of leaders. World Council officially began operations Jan. 1, 1971.

Today, World Council acts as the leading voice for global advocacy and development on behalf of the international credit union community. World Council continues to promote economic freedom and the sustainable growth of financial cooperatives across the globe through education, collaboration and community-based development projects.

World Council is governed by a board of directors that represents its member organizations. The organization and its subsidiaries are headquartered in Madison, Wis., in the United States. World Council also has a permanent office in Washington, D.C., and program offices worldwide.

1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015


CUNA International Restructures

CUNA International (USA) undergoes basic restructuring during its annual meeting, resulting in the formation of World Council. Shortly after the meeting, U.S. Credit Union National Association, Inc. (CUNA), the National Association of Canadian Credit Unions (NACCU) and the Australian Federation of Credit union Leagues, Ltd. (AFCUL) were accepted as members of World Council. New regional federations were also forming in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Far East.


World Council of Credit Unions is Born

World Council of Credit Unions is incorporated in November 1970.

World Council President R.C. Robertson led the organization through its restructuring period and into a new era of credit union expansion throughout the world.


Operations Begin

On Jan. 1, World Council of Credit Unions officially begins operations at the Filene House in Madison, Wis., USA, representing 40 million members of 56,000 credit unions in more than 70 countries.


U.S. Leagues Fund Development

The Texas Credit Union League becomes the first U.S. league to support a WOCCU program in Mexico.

WOCCU's development program in Mexico was designed to make the credit union movement self-sustaining within five years, which included the establishment of regional offices.


Wegner Named Managing Director

Herb Wegner becomes managing director (1972-75)


"WOCCU" is First Coined

First use of "WOCCU" in publications.


New Development Approach

WOCCU commits to "stimulating credit union development where the potential for technical or financial assistance looks favorable." Priorities are to extend credit union services through directed agricultural production credit programs and a global interlending system between credit unions.


Bailey Named Managing Director

A.A. "Paddy" Bailey, a Jamaican, becomes managing director (1975-83)


Worldwide Foundation for CUs Comes to Life

CUNA International Foundation becomes Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions.

The Worldwide Foundation sponsored an information booth at major credit union meetings to "spark interest in high-leverage giving through the foundation."


CUs Gain Voice Among United Nations

WOCCU attains United Nations observer status, giving credit unions a voice among the U.N. General Assembly.


WOCCU Relocates

WOCCU relocates to its current location at the Credit Union Center in Madison, Wis., USA.

WOCCU headquarters in Madison, Wis. (USA)


Programs for Women Increase

WOCCU sponsors a two-part program on women entrepreneurs and credit during the World Conference of the U.N. Decade for Women in Copenhagen.


D.C. and Madison Offices Merge

CUNA's Global Projects Office and staff in Washington, D.C., merge with WOCCU, fully integrating resources and centralizing management in Madison.


Helman Named CEO

Howard Helman becomes CEO (1981-82)


Charbonneau Named CEO

Al Charbonneau, a Canadian, becomes CEO (1983-93)


WOCCU Forms Intl. CU Principles

WOCCU drafts 10 international credit union operating principles based partly on the Rochdale principles, which guided the first financial cooperatives in England.


Model CU Building Approach

A USAID-funded Guatemala program spawns WOCCU's model credit union building approach, which emphasizes institutional building through savings mobilization rather than the infusion of credit and share-based lending.


WOCCU Publishes First Book

WOCCU publishes its first book, The Central Finance Facility, a guide to developing and operating a "credit union for credit unions."


WOCCU Develops CUs in Niger

WOCCU helps develop credit unions in the Islamic country of Niger, beginning with basic literacy and numeracy training for credit union staff.


CU Expansion in Central Europe

WOCCU responds to a request from the Solidarity movement to develop credit unions in Poland and adopts a Central European Policy for development in the region.



PEARLS monitoring system debuts, the first in a series of WOCCU financial tools for credit unions.

PEARLS training in the Philippines


WOCCU Forum Held in Madison

WOCCU's triennial forum held in Madison, Wis., the first time in the United States. Attendees are hosted in local homes.


Baker Named CEO

Chris Baker, an integral player in WOCCU's early development  as part of the Global Projects Office, becomes CEO (1993-2000)


Model CU Building Applied in Africa

WOCCU brings its model credit union building approach to Africa.


WOCCU Provides CU Legislation Framework

A "Content Guide" in English, Spanish and French provides the first international framework for credit union legislation. It is the precursor to Model Law for Credit Unions, first published in 2000.


People-to-People Program Begins

The People-to-People program comes to life, connecting credit union professionals through international internships and volunteer assignments. It is the forerunner to WOCCU's International Partnerships Program.


WOCCU Financial Tools Computerized

PEARLS and Business Plan tools integrate into a computerized software package.


WOCCU Website Debuts

WOCCU establishes its first "worldwide web homepage."

WOCCU's Melanie Tavera (left) and Julie Panka (right) spent months learning about the Internet, preparing for WOCCU's emergence on the Web.


Bringing CUs to Rural Poor

A program in the Philippines fuses the model credit union building approach with financial education to bring credit union outreach to the very poor. Forms of the methodology are later transferred to Ecuador and Peru.


Intl. Remittance Program Starts

IRnet® debuts, making low-cost international money transfers possible through credit unions. It is WOCCU's first for-profit venture through the newly established WOCCU Services Group (WSG).


Guatemala Adopts CU Rating Agency

WOCCU creates the first credit union rating agency in Guatemala.


Arnold Named CEO

Arthur Arnold becomes CEO (2000-04)


WOCCU Supporters Program Forms

WOCCU Supporters Program formalizes at the Credit Union Forum in Nashville, Tenn., USA. Credit Union Executive Society becomes the first WOCCU Supporter with a donation of US$10,000.


Basel Committee Convenes Financial Co-ops at WOCCU's Urging

At WOCCU's initiative, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision convenes financial cooperatives for the first time to discuss the new capital adequacy framework proposed for Basel II.


WYCUP Begins

WOCCU's Young Credit Union People (WYCUP) program begins, honoring young credit union leaders on an international stage.

Former WYCUP winners do some impromptu fundraising at the World Credit Union Conference in Calgary, AB, Canada, in 2007.


New Delivery Approach in Mexico Reaches Remote Villages

Credit union field officers begin trekking into remote, marginalized communities to bring financial services to the poor through WOCCU's new Semilla Cooperativa [cooperative seed] methodology.

Credit union members make deposits outside a member's home in the remote village of Nuevo Jacal, Veracruz, Mexico.


CU Representation Office Opens in Brussels

WOCCU helps establish a representation office in Brussels and organizes the European Network of Credit Unions in 2009.


CU Development Begins in Afghanistan

WOCCU's Afghanistan program becomes its first venture into Shari'a-compliant Islamic finance.


Crear Named President & CEO

Pete Crear, a long-time CUNA executive, becomes president & CEO (2005-11)


World CU Conference Formalizes

The annual International Leadership Institute and triennial Credit Union Forum become the inaugural World Credit Union Conference in Rome, Italy.


Intl. CU Regulators' Network Forms

More than 20 financial cooperative regulators form the International Credit Union Regulators' Network.

Gary Kohn (NCUA, USA), Gigi Hyland (NCUA, USA) and Brandon Khoo (APRA, Australia) participate in the annual International Regulators' Roundtable.


Smart Phones Improve Financial Services in Rural Mexico

Credit unions first use personal digital assistants (PDAs) to improve financial service delivery in rural Mexico.


CU-specific Legislation Passes in Africa

South Africa and Kenya become the first English-speaking African countries to pass credit union-specific laws.


Global Women's Leadership Network Established

World Council established the Global Women’s Leadership Network to tackle our industry’s gender gap while also leveraging resources to strengthen the economic security of women and their families. The Global Women’s Leadership Network is the industry's only international platform dedicated to addressing and facilitating greater gender balance among leadership positions. 


Small CUs Access Central Data Services Bureau in Kenya

WOCCU establishes the first credit union-owned data services bureau for small credit unions in Kenya.

Obed Makori (right), WOCCU's program staff member in Kenya, works with two bookkeepers who use the data services bureau and application service provider (ASP) software to provide accounting services to several small credit unions.


Branch Named President & CEO

Executive Vice President & COO Brian Branch, a 21-year WOCCU veteran, becomes president & CEO


Launch of Global Advocacy Program

Established in response to new international regulatory standards put in place after the global financial crisis of 2007-2011, the Global Advocacy Program represents credit unions before international standard setting bodies, such as the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, Financial Action Task Force and the Financial Stability Board. Many of the new standards were set for large international banks—not credit unions. We work to mitigate the impact of these standards before they are handed down to national regulators and become a regulatory burden for our members.


New Campus for Busia Orphanage

Credit unions launched a global funding program to buy land and build a new Busia Compassionate Centre campus. A home for HIV/AIDS orphans in western Kenya, the Centre could now offer fresh air, clean water, gardens, space for animals and a place to play. 


Vision 2020

World Council challenged its membership to add 50 million new credit union members by 2020—with a specific focus on young adults. Credit unions redesigned financial service offerings for the safe and productive transition from youth to adulthood, improving economic capacity and prospects. Global credit union membership grew by 50 million, reaching 260 million members by the end of 2017—three years ahead of schedule.


Haiti HOME Program

With funding from USAID, WOCCU launches Haiti HOME. Providing incentives to local developers to create model housing communities, and to banks and credit unions to provide financing options, HOME introduces some of the first popularly available mortgage offerings for low- and middle-income Haitians.


First Woman Elected WOCCU Board Chair

Anne Cochran, President/CEO of the Louisiana Credit Union League, becomes first woman elected World Council Board Chair.


Ukraine CAP Project

Funded by USAID, the Credit for Agriculture Producers (CAP) Project creates a more transparent legal and regulatory environment for credit unions in Ukraine. The project worked to improve services to credit unions, expand agricultural finance and increase credit union liquidity.


Financial Inclusion at the Border with Venezuela

Funded by Colombia's Banca de las Oportunidades program, the project aimed to help Colombians impacted by the social and economic crisis in Venezuela—ultimately delivering financial services to more than 250,000 people.


Haiti Accessible Finance Activity

This USAID-funded project supports the financial inclusion strategy of Haiti’s Central Bank’s (BRH) to ensure the greatest possible access to savings, credit, and other financial products and services. The goal is to reduce income inequality, creating a more economically-inclusive society.


Worldwide Foundation Relaunch

Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions' Board of Directors is established. The Foundation hires a full-time, dedicated staff and offers a broader range of options—including expanded fundraising, field engagement, business development, disaster relief and storytelling efforts. 


TIFI Project

Funded by USAID, the Technology and Innovation for Financial Inclusion (TIFI) project is seeking to develop a Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) Lending Toolkit to increase the income and welfare of small entrepreneurs in Kenya and Burkina Faso.


Challenge 2025

Vision 2020 was a success due to some credit union systems offering robust online and mobile channels of service as a way to grow membership. Our new challenge is to bring everyone up to that level, through the digitization of the global credit union system by 2025.

Worldwide Credit Union Statistics

Credit Union Members

Credit Unions

Best available data based on responses from member and non-member credit unions to WOCCU's annual survey of credit union associations and WOCCU program offices worldwide. See all international credit union statistics.