Woccu project provides financial services to rural Colombian communities

The project has passed its original goal of delivering financial services to 210,000 rural, low-income Colombians

A credit union project is offering access to financial services to thousands of people at Colombia’s border with Venezuela.

Led by the World Council of Credit Unions (Woccu), the project has surpassed its original goal of delivering financial services to 210,000 rural, low-income Colombians.

The initiative is funded through the country’s Banca de Oportunidades programme, which helps families and small enterprises gain access to financial services. The scheme has been funding Woccu’s work in Colombia since 2008.

Between 2014 and 2016, the third reiteration of the project, Woccu provided technical assistance and training to 31 credit unions. For 2016-2019, the council set the target to reach 210,000 people, 100,000 of whom are individuals who have not been certified as members of the formal financial system.

So far, 224,378 people have benefited from the scheme, which sees field agents take motorcycle trips to border areas to offer mobile banking services. The approach reduces operational risk because the devices are linked to the financial institution’s banking software.

Agents also offer advice on financial literacy and information about services being offered.

The project combines different microfinance methodologies, such as village banking, community banks, individual microcredit, and village and savings loans.

It’s a very good project. I’ve managed to have my own business. Previously, I had no formal job, no business. But they gave me a loan and taught me how to save. Now I am working out of my home and I have several clients,” said Yamile Hernández, one of the beneficiaries of the scheme.

Between 2017 and 2018, partner financial institutions managed to reach 90% of the total adult population in the border areas, 85,648 of whom have became part of Colombia’s formal financial system for the first time.

“This programme is very important for the people living along the border,” said Oscar Guzman, director of the project. “Most of the rural communities don’t have access to a physical credit union or bank branch – traveling to a city that has one can cost families more than half of their savings. Our project ensures they can open accounts, make deposits and withdrawals – even secure a loan – right in their own communities.”

The programme saw more than 60,000 people attend “financial days” to receive information on financial services and financial literacy.

“We had not had the opportunity for someone to come and teach us how to save as a community and family. Thank you very much for coming here,” said Carmenza Savogal, a member of the Misaya community of the Yukpa.