by: Michael Muckian, Director of Marketing & Communications, WOCCU
One of the first things to strike students of the global credit union movement is the many different names for member-owned financial cooperatives around the world. But a credit union by another name still provides critical services to its members. That’s one of the most important lessons World Council of Credit Unions hopes to share about the global credit union movement.
The variations are many, and largely dependent on local culture. Throughout Africa credit unions are called savings and credit cooperative societies, or SACCOS. There may be some variation in the name from country to country, as well as in the capabilities and services offered, but the dedication to members remains the same.
SACCOS often are small and limited in the services they offer, although World Council has taken steps in Kenya to create a central backoffice for many small SACCOS that allow them to effectively compete with much larger institutions. The SACCOs can provide services that otherwise would be unavailable to both urban and rural consumers, allowing them to play a vital role in their members’ lives.
In Afghanistan, credit unions are called Islamic investment and finance cooperatives, or IIFCs. Islamic shari’a law governing financial services applies to all IIFCs, and the institutions have carefully structure loans and services to comply. Despite the administrative challenges, the IIFCs have been instrumental in helping disenfranchised members of the population, including women, forge new lives for themselves.
In the very best cases, the IIFCs have helped some new women entrepreneurs create small businesses that allow them to employ other women, an opportunity to help multiple families gain some level of financial security. The relatively new IIFC Group, Afghanistan’s credit union trade association created with World Council support, will help assure that the IIFCs continue to grow in number and in service to members.
Even in developed countries, credit unions take on different names and different structures. In Poland, credit unions are known as Społdzielcze Kasy Oszçzdnościowo-Kredytowe, a lengthy moniker that conveniently shortens to SKOK. In this case, the acronym takes on an added importance because SKOK has become the preferred financial services brand among Poland’s consumers. All of the country’s credit unions – no matter who they serve – carry the SKOK banner for easy identification.
Poland’s traditional credit unions were shuttered during World War II, finally reemerging with World Council assistance after the rise of the Solidarity movement in the late 1980s. This year the Polish credit union movement recognizes 20 years of service, an anniversary global credit union members will help celebrate in July when World Council brings its World Credit Union Conference to Gdańsk, the birthplace of Solidarity.
What conference attendees will see is one of the world’s most progressive credit union systems in terms of centralized services and a unified market persona. What they may learn is how to collaborate in ways that capitalize on credit unions’ strength without sacrificing each institution’s unique market position.
But what every student of the global movement should realize is that whether the institution is called a SACCO, IIFC, SKOK or just your hometown credit union, the central philosophy remains the same. In every credit union in every country, members own their institutions. And those institutions are designed to work for the greater good of members, their families and their communities.
Michael Muckian is director of marketing and communications for World Council of Credit Unions, the leading trade association and development agency representing the global credit union movement. He has nearly 20 years of credit union trade association experience, including service to CUNA and CUES and the members they serve. He helped organize and oversee the CUNA Councils and is an experienced business journalist and communicator with a strong dedication to cooperative principles. www.woccu.org