Colombian Government Taps WOCCU to Expand CU Services to Underserved

September 24, 2008

Organization: World Council of Credit Unions
Phone: (608) 395-2000
 Felix Arias Maldonado

Felix Arias Maldonado, a member of Coopesagua credit union on the border with Venezuela in northern Colombia, owns a small watch repair stand. The new WOCCU program will help credit unions reach more microentrepreneurs like Maldonado and those who lack access to financial services. 

MADISON, Wis.—With backing from the Colombian government's Banca de Oportunidades program, World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) recently began a US$1.5 million, two-year program to strengthen Colombia's credit unions and introduce new technologies that will enable them to bring financial services to the underserved.

Colombia's government reorganized the country's financial system following an economic recession that debilitated the credit union system more than a decade ago. In the reorganization, the government created a specialized supervisory unit and guarantee fund for the credit union sector. The country today has more than 200 credit unions and serves 6% of the economically active population.

The Colombian government is funding WOCCU's new program, which will work with the country's credit unions to develop strategic plans for financial strengthening and savings mobilization and to implement new microcredit products and services to reach a broader membership.

“The fact that the government of Colombia has noticed the significant financial, managerial and membership growth of these credit unions speaks highly of the level of technical assistance our projects provide to our credit union partners,“ said Mark Cifuentes, WOCCU senior vice president of technical services. “It is evident that the Colombian government shares WOCCU's deep interest in expanding quality services to the greater Colombian population through well established and disciplined credit unions.“

WOCCU will also work with the existing WOCCU Services Group (WSG) office in Colombia, SumaRed S.A., to expand products and services to credit unions in Colombia. WSG offices are a new model of credit union service organizations that provide technical, operational and regulatory expertise to credit unions in countries where WOCCU has had or currently has programs. WSG offices also assist credit unions in developing and implementing new technologies, products and services to more efficiently and rapidly reach underserved areas. WSG offices currently exist in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Kenya, Mexico and Peru.

“The Banca de las Oportunidades project, through WOCCU and in partnership with SumaRed, will help strengthen and develop Colombian credit unions, giving an important boost not only to the credit union movement but to an important number of people who today have no access to financial services,“ said Juan José Camargo, SumaRed general manager.

WOCCU also has a program in Colombia funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The program focuses on rapid membership expansion to those living in poverty and is being piloted in Colombia, Kenya and Rwanda.

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

NOTE: Click on photos to view/download in high resolution.