Special Report: The 1 CU Conference

Chairmen seek greater global CU involvement.

July 12, 2010

The chairmen from the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) and the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) welcomed more than 2,800 attendees from 60 nations to The 1 Credit Union Conference, which convened in Las Vegas Sunday.

It was the first time the two trade organizations joined forces to present a major credit union industry event.

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Speakers stressed the need for greater global unity among credit unions and the inherent strengths offered by the financial cooperative model. The global movement has made great strides during the past year, but there is more work to be done, presenters said.

Harriet May, chairman of CUNA and president/CEO of GECU of EL Paso, Texas, outlined issues U.S. credit unions are grappling with that stem from the economy and legislative and regulatory changes. The economy and financial meltdown have:

  • Underscored for U.S. credit unions the importance of capital, with CUNA's priority to create a means to pursue secondary capital—"a change we've been seeking for years."
  • Presented an opportunity for more people to discover credit unions. "We've added new members—1.2 million in 2009, bringing our total to nearly 92 million Americans (about one in four) who are credit union members," May said, adding that national media have been filled with good stories about credit unions. "We think the gains we have seen in consumer awareness will last and benefit credit unions in the long-term," she said.
  • Resulted in difficulty for small businesses in getting credit from banks, which is an opportunity for credit unions. "We have been urging Congress to pass a bill that would raise the limit on the amount of small business loans credit unions can make" and "it wouldn't cost taxpayers a dime," she added.

She also noted the growing regulatory burden credit unions face, including the amendment in the regulatory reform bill that would affect interchange on debit card processing.

"The escalating burden is becoming a major concern for credit unions especially when you consider that, pound for pound, credit unions are already the most heavily regulated depository institutions in the U.S. That's not just my opinion. That's the U.S. Treasury's," she said. CUNA's Examination and Supervision Subcommittee will conduct a survey soon to quantify the costs and resources spent diverted to compliance issues, she concluded.

WOCCU Chair Barry Jolette told the assembly that greater global credit union unity requires efforts not only on the part of the institution and its trade association, but also from individuals involved in the movement.

"As U.S. credit unions have often heard, a movement begins at the grassroots level one person at a time and it grows with the addition of each new voice and the involvement of each helping hand," said Jolette, president/CEO of San Mateo CU in Redwood City, Calif. "That movement will never stop growing until the needs of all its members are met."

Prior to Sunday afternoon's opening session, WOCCU held several other meetings for various credit union groups, including the second annual Global Women's Leadership Forum, part of WOCCU's Global Women's Leadership Network. More than 90 participants gathered for the day-long forum Sunday—double the attendance at the group's inaugural forum last year at WOCCU's 2009 World Credit Union Conference in Barcelona, Spain.

The rapidly growing participation indicates increasing interest in the organization designed to foster networking and professional growth for women credit union leaders worldwide, according to network chair Sue Mitchell.

"Women are central players in community development worldwide and if we can increase their ability to connect, we have a very good chance of changing the world," said Mitchell, CEO of credit union consulting firm Mitchell, Stankovic & Associates. "We want credit unions to play a central role in this important effort."

Educational sessions during the forum focused on strategies to cultivate institutional growth and professional development for participants. In addition, Greta Greathouse, the head of WOCCU's development efforts in Haiti, gave a first-hand account of serving credit unions in the wake of the Jan. 12 earthquake.

Currently, the Global Women's Leadership Network has 85 members representing 21 countries, but Mitchell expects that number to grow to more than 100 as conference attendees sign up for the organization. Sunday's meeting was preceded by a Saturday golf tournament that raised more than $40,000 to help support network scholarships, she added.

The WOCCU Young Credit Union People Program (WYCUP) also convened Sunday, attracting 57 participants from 15 countries, roughly double the number in attendance at WYCUP's Barcelona program last year. Participants networked and heard from several educational speakers. Five participants will be chosen for all-expenses-paid scholarships to attend the WYCUP 2011 program and WOCCU's World Credit Union Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.