Wednesday, June 10, 2009

CUs draw strength in global presence--WOCCU chair

MADISON, Wis. (6/10/09)--Credit unions' ethical leadership has given them both integrity and strength during the current financial crisis, according to Melvin Edwards, World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) departing chair and board representative from the Caribbean Confederation of Credit Unions.

However, credit unions can gain even greater influence by speaking as a single global body, supporting credit unions in developing countries and increasing the movement's influence worldwide, he added.

"Credit unions are engines of social and economic development, and too many governments have missed the value of their influence," said Edwards, a St. Kitts and Nevis native whose two-year term as WOCCU chair concludes in July at WOCCU's World Credit Union Conference in Barcelona, Spain. "Credit unions everywhere need to recognize that we exist as a global movement, and we need to speak in one voice."

Much of credit unions' strength is based on their financial transparency, not-for-profit cooperative natures and focus on member service, aspects that set them apart from many for-profit financial institutions. Their emphasis on education helps financially strengthen not only the credit unions, but also the members they serve, Edwards said.

In the end, he said credit unions' "people helping people" philosophy enables them to grow the movement in developing countries and hone individual members' and their own capabilities to weather economic storms like the global financial crisis.

"We need to invest more, not only in educating ourselves but also our members, correcting their assumptions about easy credit and refocusing them on increased savings and safe investments," Edwards added. "The more members know about managing their own funds, the easier it will be for them to keep their credit unions safe, accountable and honest."

During Edwards' tenure as chair, WOCCU expanded its membership to include 40 systems or institutions representing 69 countries. It also increased its influence with legislative and regulatory bodies, including the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, International Accounting Standards Board, European Union, Group of 20 (G-20) Nations and others.

WOCCU issued a set of International Consumer Protection Principles to set member service standards for credit unions worldwide last year, and WOCCU's technical development efforts have employed new technology to reach the rural poor in Mexico, a program it hopes to expand to other countries later this year.

"I have been very fortunate to see many sides of credit unions worldwide and have kept my ear to the ground in learning to appreciate this beautiful mosaic," he said. "I am now better equipped to appreciate the plurality of many cultures and realize that we all gain strength from the common denominator that is the credit union philosophy."

Edwards also says he is confident that when he hands the office to his successor at the Barcelona conference, July 26-29, WOCCU will continue gaining speed in its service to credit unions and their members worldwide.

"I know my successor will continue to build on the strengths that were already present when I arrived, and I counsel him to listen closely. The humility of serving in high office will enable him and WOCCU to succeed," he concluded.

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