Credit unions are driven by a passion to serve their members. Whether in developed or developing countries, credit unions have to respond to their members’ demands for convenience and access. Members now look for multiple vehicles for access to their credit union account. Yet, beyond that, in many countries today, credit unions take their services to the members where they work and live rather than wait for members to come into a branch.
In many remote places this is the only way to serve the hardworking rural poor who otherwise would be forced to take time away from their work and travel long distances. Credit unions send their staff to rural areas and markets with wirelessly linked PDAs and printers to provide services in the communities.
Access expands in concentric circles. The branch office is the center. Not everyone can come to the branch office during business hours. ATMS, which we take for granted, expand the hours of service for members in Ecuador and Bolivia. Credit union staff members in Mexico carry PDAs with them while they make their marketplace visits or treks to rural villages. Members know that they can access their accounts and conduct cash transactions when the credit union representative is visiting.
Sure, the technology spurs greater confidence than the old handwritten ledgers in plastic folders. But the technology is about access and convenience. So the credit unions expand that convenience to the full work day, every work day by putting notebooks or POS machines in local stores in Guatemala or Peru, where members can swipe a card and access their credit union account to make purchases, deposits or loan payments. Meanwhile in Kenya, mobile phones have helped expand members’ access to their credit unions to 24 hours a day, providing that members keep their phones charged.
Whether offering remote access or locating access just around the corner, providing service to members when and where they need it is simply the business credit unions are in. Borders and developed-versus-developing distinctions become blurred as we see credit unions observe the technology application in one country and adapt it to another.
Credit unions in the United States have successfully adapted the remote service delivery mobile technology of PDAs from credit unions in Mexico. At Ventura County Credit Union in California, representatives visit farm laborers and produce processors where they work with handheld devices to help them conduct credit union business. Ventura stepped outside traditional service parameters to help people in need. The technology may have made providing that service easier, but it was credit union passion that drove the strategy.
Everywhere we see new technologies emerging through which services are delivered by some shiny new handheld device. Is it the end of the brick and mortar branch? Will cell phones eliminate ATMS and POS? Not likely. It is not about the technology. It is about how the technology allows the credit unions to respond to the working and living convenience of the members. It is about providing multiple channels for members to access our services.
Dr. Brian Branch, president and CEO of World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), was appointed in 2011. Dr. Branch has worked at WOCCU since 1990 and has been engaged in development fieldwork, research and implementation for more than 30 years. www.woccu.org