Regional credit unions urged to become more innovative

Peter Richards

PANAMA CITY, Panama, Wednesday June 26, 2013 – Caribbean credit union officials began a four day meeting here on Saturday amidst concerns that the regional movement has reached a “plateau” and there is need for new products to entice the younger population. 

President of the Caribbean Confederation of Credit Unions (CCCU) Yvonne Ridguard Harris told more than 500 delegates from as far north as the United States that there was also need to increase membership and make the movement more technologically advanced.

“Our movement within the Caribbean has reached a plateau.  We need to increase our membership and our share of the loans and savings market and make a concerted effort to be relevant to and attract younger members, especially in the board room. 

“In order to do so, we need to provide technologically based service delivery channels such as internet banking and mobile banking which will attract this group.  Importantly, we need to ensure that all our members, especially the younger members are schooled in the philosophy and values of the co-operative business model,” she told the delegates attending the 56th annual international convention and the 42nd annual general meeting of the regional grouping.

The Jamaican-born CCCU president said that the movement also needed to provide its members “not just with basic loans and savings products, but with other value added products and services, which will ensure that we become a true financial partner to our members”.

She warned that if a credit union is unable to able to provide its members with an array of financial services, then it could consider either collaborating with another or merging with credit unions to ensure that its members financial needs are met.

“Consequently, CCCU intends to strategically partner with appropriate entities to provide credit unions across the Caribbean with access to shared technologically based products and services, which can add value to the members.  

“If we treat our members well, they will reward us by doing business with us,” she said, telling delegates that the regional movement was also seeking additional support for its US$100,000 stabilisation fund that was launched in July 2011.

“As we search for ways to empower our members, it is critically important that we build support structures that will keep the movement safe and sound.  It is therefore CCCU’s vision, that the stabilization fund which was launched …for the benefit and protection of our members who matter most, will ultimately be matched by many donor organizations, including credit unions. 

“It is intended that this fund will be a regional support mechanism to assist credit unions which may require support.  We continue to solicit your input and ideas on how to make thus fund a reality.”

She said that she was not daunted by the size of the fund at this stage given the history of credit unions in the Caribbean, most of whom were formed with small capital and their growth is now phenomenal.  

“So I expect this fund with your support, to continue growing. If we as credit unions remain focused on our core business, continue to collaborate and corporate with each other, especially in areas where we can benefit from economies of scale from shared services, we will be able to better serve our members and effectively compete with our financial competitors.”

The conference here is being held under the theme ““The Credit Union Difference; Members Matters Most” and Ridguard Harris said last year, co-operatives worldwide were given a unique opportunity, to showcase the value of the Co-operative Business Model, which has been around for over 150 years.  She said this was done to raise awareness of the co-operative way of doing business and the socio-economic value it brings to its members and the community at large.  

“This year, we have chosen to focus on one of the most important features of the Credit Union difference, that is the members who occupy a unique position, in that members are both the shareholders, that is the persons investing the capital in the credit union and at the same time the credit union’s exclusive customers, as the only persons to whom, the Credit Union can sell its financial services.”

Figures show that within the Caribbean, credit unions have a membership of over 2.1 million and an asset base of over US$4.5 billion, and the CCCU president said the meeting here in Panama provides for an opportunity to reflect on the country “transformed the lives of many of our fore-parents, who journeyed here to help build this gateway to the world, whilst at the same time, economically empowering themselves.  

“As the Panama Canal connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean via the Caribbean Sea, so  we as credit unions, by the services we offer, must provide a gateway for our members to economic freedom and empowerment, as well as social mobility.”

She said there are also many lessons to be learnt from the attempt by Nicaragua partnering with a Hong King-based company to build their own gateway to rival the Panama Canal.

“ However, the key lesson which I would like to highlight, is so long as a credit union exists, there will be actual competition or potential competition from other financial institutions, whether from within our own credit union circles, or from the  commercial banks.

“However, competition does not mean that we fall over and die.  Instead, we need to use this competitive opportunity as a catalyst and gateway, to provide our members and potential members with exactly the services they want at the best possible price,” she said.

According to the latest annual report of the CCCU released here to coincide with the conference, at the end of December last year, regional credit unions had assets totally US$4.8 billion and reserves of more than half a billion dollars.

The audited figures also show that the unions gave loans totally US$3.45 billion and had shares and deposits in excess of four billion US dollars.(CMC) Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)