GREENSBORO, N.C. (11/23/09)--Romanian credit unions’ memberships have dramatically increased, leading to a need for better marketing and public relations, according to the North Carolina Credit Union League (NCCUL) and the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU). The two organizations visited Romania last week. Victor Miguel Corro, WOCCU senior manager for international partnerships, and Jeff Hardin, NCCUL director of communications, visited Romania Nov. 15-19. The trip, co-sponsored by the Romanian Federation of Credit Unions and WOCCU, is one of two visits that will assist the Romanian Federation and its credit unions as they continue to grow and build capacity. The week’s activities also were geared toward laying the groundwork for a partnership agreement between the Romanian credit unions and a league or credit union in the U.S. In March, WOCCU Executive Director Brian Branch and NCCUL President/CEO John Radebaugh will visit Romania and provide more information and administrative support to the Romanian credit unions and the federation. WOCCU has helped Romanian credit unions with training and policy guidance since the 1990s. It also helped them charter the federation five years ago. Since then, the federation and its 17 affiliated credit unions have grown dramatically in membership, assets and member trust.
Called Casa de Ajutor Reciprocs--CARs or “Mutual Help Houses”--in Romania, credit unions operate as non-government organizations and lie outside the banking system. CARs offer savings accounts and small loans--usually made for terms of five years or fewer. Like their counterparts in the U.S., Romanian CARs are not subject to federal taxes. In multiple credit union visits conducted Nov. 17-18 by Corro and Hardin, Romanian staff pointed to training on marketing and public relations as key needs. For example, St. Gheorghe CAR advertises on radio and in local newspapers, but is looking to grow membership and build its brand. “We need for more people to understand how we are different from the other credit unions, and we need more credit unions outside the system to join the Federation,” said Romanian Federation CEO Florin Simion. Simion, Corro and Hardin visited St. Gheorghe Casa de Ajutor Recirpoc. While its members understood and appreciated the credit union difference, the staff said the message needs to be understood by a wider audience. Fokkus CAR in Targu Secuiesc also seeks marketing and public relations strategies to enhance its story. A local factory originally sponsored the credit union but the credit union later moved into its own building and changed its name. The factory later shut down. Fokkus has grown steadily in the past decade, and has nearly 3,000 members in a town of 20,000. When asked why the credit union had been so successful in building and keeping members, Manager Ildiko Croitoru replied, “They know us to be honest and that we will keep our word.” Members value this type of service since banks would often charge unnecessary fees to add to their profits, she added. Effective marketing and public relations training is needed to help the credit union grow, especially in its new branch location in a nearby village. Fokkus advertises in local newspapers and recently launched a web site, Croitoru said. The need for a more visible presence through marketing and public relations also extends to the Federation. To help the credit unions continue to grow and develop capacity, more affiliates need to be added and the credit unions need to lobby for legislative changes. “We haven’t hit critical mass yet to approach the government and get the changes we need,” Simion said. Hardin will file a report to the Federation and WOCCU to assist in helping with marketing and public relations at the Federation and individual credit unions. “The credit union story here is a good one,” Corro said. “We look forward to working together with the Romanian credit unions to help them expand their ability to reach the people who are in need of affordable and ethical financial services.” NCCUL has two partnerships via WOCCU’s International Partnership Program. The first is a long-standing partnership with the South American country of Suriname, while the second is a partnership agreement with one of the largest credit unions in Mexico, Caja Morelia. To see a video about the visit, use the link.