2019 Q&A: Brian Branch, Woccu

President and chief executive officer of the World Council of Credit Unions (Woccu)

 How was 2019 for Woccu?

This year has been about two things – helping credit unions digitise so that they are competitive everywhere and helping them respond to communities impacted by pressures of people feeling that they have to leave to other areas or cannot accommodate those new arrivals.

 What have been the main issues for Woccu in terms of campaigning?

One of the key issues we looked at were global regulations that affect credit unions. A big success has been having the Basel committee put the word proportionality in its standards, which means that they expect local countries to implement these standards with proportionality with respect of local institutions.

We are also focusing on helping local countries and credit unions systems in terms of assessing what these standards mean and how to apply them nationally.

 What are the main challenges for the sector?

 One big challenge going forward is digitisation. We did a challenge campaign for credit unions to increase their membership and achieved membership goals early but found that not all credit unions grew with membership as fast as others. The credit unions that were successful at growing and appealing were those who offered services online and mobile.

What makes a huge difference in terms of attracting customers aged between 18-35 is offering services online and via mobile, and integrating with national service payment systems so that consumers can do their transactions with a single device.

Another big challenge that credit unions face is that of refugee pressures on communities. Credit unions are very community-driven. Today there are 70 million refuges around the world. In many of our programmes we dealt with how credit unions responded to these challenges. 

We have done work in rural areas across the world as well. A lot of young people leave rural areas and, as a result, communities turn to credit unions and ask them if they can provide opportunities for young people so that they don’t leave. So, we have done work with credit unions to train them in how to do agricultural lending. We found that this helps to raise income. We also help local producers access markets, information and training in agricultural practices.

Some credit unions cannot lend to businesses themselves. So, when members start out small, they take a personal loan. But they may want loans for their business as well. So, we support them to build credit union service organisations to pool liquidity and make larger loans to legal entities, so that their members don’t have to go elsewhere for service.

Our work in South America  is not so much about providing services for people leaving from communities, but providing opportunities for refugees, for example from Venezuela, in their host communities. Large numbers of refugees are coming into communities, which look at how to integrate them to avoid issues later on. We are working with credit unions there to help professionals to practice their certifications in those countries. Credit unions can also help people with limited assets by enabling them to save, stabilise their economic situation, accumulate assets and increase their financial standing.

 Can you tell us more about your 2020 World Credit Union Conference?

 Next year we will be meeting in Los Angeles jointly with the US Credit Union National Association and we are close to Silicon Valley so we will try to dig into what’s happening in tech that credit unions should know. For years we have been bringing tech experts to our conferences. This time we will look at what digitisation is, how to come up with a strategy for digitisation and how to assess fintech players in the marketplace, looking at who can be your allies and who you need to be careful of.

We do a lot of training programmes for boards and we look at international regulatory pressures and advocacy. Our top challenges that we see everywhere are the costs of regulatory burden, membership growth, cybersecurity and digitisation so those are topics we build the agenda on, which respond to issues credit unions are facing.

In this article

Join the Conversation