CU Leaders Converge On Mexico City To Share Best Practices

November 29, 2004

Using clever analogy, David Richardson, director of technical development for the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), delivered a powerful message on the importance of each of us in the credit union movement to protect so fiercely what our founders worked so hard to create. Just as a farmer needs to protect his livestock, so do cooperatives need to protect the interest of their members. Richardson was among a line-up of international leaders who presented at WOCCO's Mejores Prácticas (Best Practices) - De Las Cooperativas de Ahorro Y Credito conference in Mexico City last week.

During his presentation, Richardson outlined what he considers the genetic markers of bad governance:

  • Absence of clear norms and rules
  • Disorder and hierarchal interference
  • Double standards (elitism)
  • Salary gaps between upper management and staff
  • Personal interest
  • Creative accounting
  • Intimidation and retaliation

    Richardson says we can learn a great deal from nature, explaining that there are actually quite a few similarities between cooperatives and a rooster farm. Just as a financial institution offers certain products/services, so does a rooster farm: eggs, meat, insect control, garbage disposal, fertilizer and alarm. He went on to say that when the sun goes down, the raccoons come out and in order to protect the roosters from predators, the farmer has to secure the barn. Credit unions too have to take certain measures to protect - and secure - the interests of the members, one such measure being effective governance.

    Richardson offers four suggestions for effective governance:

  • Clear norms and rules
  • Cooperation/teamwork
  • Fiduciary Responsibility
  • System control: checks and balance

    Mark Cifuentes, senior manager of technical services for WOCCU continued with what actions he believes has an adverse effect on the international system:

  • Poor concentration due to self-interest or governance problems
  • Lack of support within the system
  • Dependence on external finances(referring to credit unions in developing countries)
  • Inadequate pricing of products/services
  • Lack of transparency of credit union operations, financials, etc.
  • Undisciplined financial operations
  • Violation of the cooperative principals

    Cifuentes says in order to compete effectively in the marketplace we need to convey the message that not only can we be a trusted financial institution, but that we offer:

  • Security
  • Competitive Pricing
  • Efficiency
  • Quality Service

    Having an adequately trained staff is also essential to operating a tight ship, according to Dieter Hubenthal, DGRV project director of training for Latin America. DGRV is a trade association and development organization in Germany. "Your staff is the backbone of your organization," he told the audience. Therefore, he says it's critical that they not just be given an overload of information and expect them to perform to your expectation. There needs to be training and follow-through. Hubenthal implied that training should be seen as an investment, rather than an expense. Your staff, after all, is the face of your organization.

    The overlying theme of the three-day conference was strategies for success, encompassing the sharing of ideas, philosophies and best practices of credit unions in Mexico and Latin America, covering a range of topics, including:

  • Governance
  • Organizational Structure
  • Professional Training
  • Marketing Development of Products and Services
  • ATM Networks/Shared Branching
  • Risk Administration
  • Strategic Planning
  • Remittances

    Mario Galarraga, WOCCU project manager for the Caja Popular Mexicana (CPM) - who works closely with the Texas and California Credit Union Leagues - says as we go about the daily operation of the credit union, we must never forget our members. "It is for the members that we exist," he told the audience.

    He says we must also keep in mind that while the international movement is strong, it is not fully developed in every country. Using a quote from President John F. Kennedy, "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country," Galarraga called on Latin America credit unions in developing countries to develop their credit unions so that they can be a tool in developing their countries, just as the credit union in developed countries have done. The strength of the movement, he says, is dependent upon the success of all credit unions.

    A partnership that is quickly proving successful is one between WOCCU and FINANCOOP. The two organizations are working toward a shared- branching network. Initially, this pilot program would enable Ecuadorians to access their funds from participating credit unions throughout the country. However, the plan is to have in the very near future, a cross-border shared branching system, whereas Ecuadorians could access their money from participating credit unions in the United States and Spain.

    David Torres, CFO of the CPM, says one thing to keep in mind is that cooperatives abroad need to focus attention on educating their members about savings, which is the key to coming out of poverty. For example, in Mexico, 81 percent of the population relies on remittance to sustain living expenses. Certainly, we need to provide convenient access to these funds, but Torres says there needs to be emphasis placed on the importance of saving in order to achieve long- term goals, such as buying a home or starting a small business.

    Galarraga says remittances serve as a bridge between U.S. credit unions and CPM. In fact, CPM is one of the largest receivers of remittances from abroad. On average, CPM currently receives about 6,000 remittances a month - some of which are from U.S. credit unions, but the majority is from non-credit union outlets. Galarraga says a goal of CPM is also to implement a shared- branching system, once it completes the conversion of their technology platform. The Texas and California Credit Union Leagues signed a "People to People" partnership with CPM two years ago. This signed partnership serves as commitment to mutual assistance and framework for a relationship that will stretch well into the future, globally strengthening the credit union movement.

    More than 300 credit union leaders attended the conference, representing 16 countries, including Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic Ecuador, El Salvador, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and United States (including representatives from the California and Texas Leagues).

    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 300+ technical assistance programs in 89 countries. Worldwide, 68,882 credit unions in 109 countries serve 235 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at