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Asia Africa priorities for new WOCCU CEO Branch
MADISON, Wis. (8/9/11)--Membership growth in Asia and Africa were among the priorities cited by new World Council of Credit Unions President/CEO Brian Branch in an interview with News Now Monday. “Asia would be a high priority for us,” said Branch, who took over leadership of WOCCU following the retirement of the Pete Crear. “We have members in Africa, but that’s an area we would like to see some expansion in as well.” In 2008, Branch, then WOCCU’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, spearheaded a development initiative with the People’s Bank of China and the China’s rural credit cooperatives to help bring affordable financial services to the country’s underserved. He said the People’s Bank seeks to create a more market-driven environment among China’s hundreds of rural cooperatives. Branch listed three areas of focus as he takes over leadership of WOCCU: increasing member organization growth in countries worldwide, expanding WOCCU’s development program, and further growing WOCCU’s service group. Through its development programs, WOCCU can provide access to the rural poor and help credit unions band together to build networks that help them to build scale, employ new technologies and provide more services, Branch told News Now. An example of this is WOCCU’s breakthrough work in helping the rural poor access financial services through mobile technology in Latin America and Haiti, he said. Branch also cited WOCCU’s International Partnership program, which pairs U.S. credit union leagues with trade associations from other countries. He cited a recent partnership between the Ohio Credit Union League and the Romanian credit union movement as an example of how credit unions worldwide can help each other “They need to have better legislation in Romania to offer the service that their members demand,” Branch explained. “They need to have more compelling products. They face the same challenges that our credit unions face in the context of the financial crisis and the recession. We had a group from Ohio go to Romania. They spent some time talking about how they manage the challenge of excess liquidity, lower returns on loans, higher delinquency, how to provision for that--the same kind of management challenges we’re used to. Credit unions worldwide face the same kind of management challenges.” Through its subsidiary, WOCCU Service Group, WOCCU provides much of the technology to credit unions in countries where it has programs. The foundation of the service group is IRnet, the International Remittance Network, which WOCCU developed in 2001 to help recent immigrants to the U.S. send funds back to their home countries. The concept has grown to include other retail delivery vehicles--such point-of-service terminals, ATMs, and mobile services. “It’s become a vehicle by which credit unions in other countries see an opportunity to collaborate and provide additional services that are very expensive for one credit union to provide, but much more reasonable if they work to do it collaboratively,” Branch said. While providing affordable and accessible financial services to so many areas of great instability is a challenge, Branch says the credit union model is very robust. “When these big changes happen throughout the world, the credit unions are so deeply rooted within their communities that that they continue to operate,” Branch said. “They are a source of stability for these communities.”
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