BRUSSELS, Belgium (12/19/11)--European credit unions made headway last week as champions in providing basic services to the financially underserved because of efforts by the World Council of Credit Unions' (WOCCU) European Network of Credit Unions (ENCU), WOCCU said.
Meetings with European Union (EU) parliamentarians and the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, as part of ENCU's annual lobbying efforts, resulted in credit unions being invited to participate in a commission hearing on financial inclusion in January.
Also, the topics of transparency of account fees and anti-money-laundering rules were discussed by credit union participants and lawmakers. In addition to WOCCU, participants represented credit union movements in Estonia, Ireland, Poland, Romania and the United Kingdom.
"The meetings with lawmakers were essential to ensuring that credit unions' unique structure and commitment to the social and economic well-being of their members is recognized within draft legislation, subsequently creating regulatory environments that enable, rather than inhibit credit unions from achieving the spirit of the law," said Brian Branch, WOCCU president/CEO.
In addressing financial inclusion, EU lawmakers have considered allowing member states to designate at least one financial provider within each jurisdiction in EU countries, which would be required to offer basic payment accounts to financially excluded citizens at a reasonable cost. In light of such considerations, the credit union representatives present highlighted histories of successfully providing affordable, tailored financial products and services to rural, low-income and financially excluded individuals, said WOCCU.
As a result, credit union participants were among the few financial industry representatives invited to participate in the parliament's Internal Market and Consumer Affairs Committee hearing on financial inclusion Jan. 25 in Brussels.
The credit union delegation also expressed support for legislation requiring account fees to be disclosed in transparent and meaningful ways to consumers.
Regarding anti-money-laundering rules, representatives asked for less burdensome reporting requirements and certain flexibility on identity verification of individuals in remote areas. Although credit union disclosure practices and adherence to anti-money-laundering efforts already align with commission requirements, participants agreed that ongoing advocacy efforts are critical to ensure that legislation and regulation avoid becoming so burdensome that they compromise the policy objectives of financial inclusion.
"While financial inclusion is a hot topic of debate amongst EU policymakers today, it is a topic that European credit unions have lived and breathed throughout their history," said WOCCU Director Brian McCrory, who also serves on the board of the Irish League of Credit Unions. He noted that the "cooperative advocacy efforts have been fruitful in gaining the opportunity to advocate on our members' and potential members' behalves at the EU policy level in January," and added he hopes "that such efforts will result in a more holistic approach to financial inclusion."