Making the Connection: Brazilian, U.S. Credit Union Professionals Get a Unique Opportunity to Compare Practices and Share Ideas

Brazilian credit union professionals gather outside the White House in Washington, D.C., before heading to host credit unions around the country.

Four Brazilian credit union professionals and their Northwest counterparts got the chance to spend three weeks together in late October, a unique opportunity to compare practices, share ideas and talk a lot about life, family, food, travel and “all the things that truly connect people.”

The visit, organized by the World Council of Credit Unions as part of the U.S. State Department’s Professional Fellows Program, brought 12 delegates from Brazil to the U.S.—two to Oklahoma, two to Arizona, four to Texas and four to credit unions in the Seattle area.  

All 12 then gathered in Washington, D.C., last weekend for a Professional Fellows Congress, where 200 delegates from more than 40 countries attended workshops and participated in small-group exercises that focused on economic empowerment, journalism and the legislative process. They flew home to Brazil on Sunday.

“Participating in this program was a great opportunity to develop myself as a professional and as a person,” says Hamilton Cassol, a regional financial services manager for Sicredi, one of three credit union systems in Brazil. (Sicredi is Brazil’s seventh-largest financial institution, comprised of 113 credit unions with more than 1,100 service outlets—and more than 2 million members—in 10 states.)

“I imagine that the exchange of information and new ideas will benefit both my credit union,” Cassol says, “and the credit union that I visited.”

BECU, Sound Credit Union and Seattle Metropolitan Credit Union served as hosts for the visit. Staffers worked alongside their Brazilian counterparts to show what day-to-day operations look like in the U.S.; they also joined in a variety of after-hours events designed to showcase the region’s eclectic culture and natural beauty.

“We had a lot of good experiences,” says Clarice Koch, a compliance officer for Sicredi, “but the visit to Mount Rainier was the best!”

Visits to Pike Place Market and the Space Needle were also on the agenda, of course, as were field trips led by the Northwest Credit Union Association to Seattle Children’s Hospital, a credit union chapter meeting, the Washington Department of Financial Institutions for a rule-making session, and the state Capitol in Olympia.

NWCUA President/CEO Troy Stang and Chief Operating Officer Denise Gabel also hosted the delegates at Association offices in Sea-Tac, where they talked in depth about the differences between U.S. and Brazilian credit union systems—and the common bonds they share.

“International credit union exchanges are rich opportunities to exchange knowledge and build relationships,” Stang says. “These visits help all of us understand how financial cooperatives in other countries operate on a daily basis, how they strive to convert the cooperative structure into real, tangible value to the member/consumer, and how they impact the communities they serve.”

BECU staff “shares the love” with Marina da Silva Bordin (middle) during her visit to the Northwest.

Cassol and Koch shadowed Jill Vicente at Seattle Metropolitan Credit Union during their Northwest stay. At BECU, Heather Nadeau and Deborah Wege worked with Marina da Silva Bordin, while Denise Reagan showed Raquel Ternes da Rosa the ropes at Sound Credit Union.

The Brazilians shared a wealth of information about new-product development and implementation, compliance standards, the role of foundations, and the ways in which individual credit unions gain economy of scale by working within a centralized system.

But Wege, BECU’s community affairs manager and the executive director of the BECU Foundation, says she was especially intrigued by the Brazilians’ three-pronged approach—social, economic and environmental—to sustainability, an approach that Nadeau calls “holistic.”

(Sicredi is the only financial institution in more than 235 small towns in Brazil, and it’s there that the commitment to sustainability is especially evident. Credit unions in those towns not only reach out to underserved populations such as sugar cane workers, but they also create jobs for local residents, lead community development projects and spearhead environmental efforts.)

“I especially admire the Sicredi Foundation’s work in partnership with university teachers to spread a new teaching methodology that inspires and incorporates critical-thinking skills for students,” Wege says, because that often results in projects that make a real difference in local communities.

She also likes Sicredi’s “Grow Up” initiative, which teaches members “what it means to belong to a cooperative credit union and the difference this makes for them and their communities.”

“I think these and other worthwhile programs are revolutionizing the areas around Brazil that they serve,” Wege says, “and they make it possible for Sicredi to serve the needs of every member, from the wealthiest to the poorest.”

Nadeau, BECU’s employment manager, says she most enjoyed learning about “the structure, product offerings, philosophy and, ultimately, the different ways of doing business” in Brazil. In return, she says, “I wanted to share with them the BECU way—the culture, the philosophy, the intangibles that make BECU special.”

Those “intangibles” struck a chord with both Koch and Cassol.

Anthem - Brazil 4

Raquel Ternes da Rosa spent three weeks at Sound Credit Union, where she participated in an all-staff meeting, a training session—and celebrated her birthday.

“The best experience,” Cassol says, “was meeting the people who make up the organization and seeing how much they care about credit unions and the communities they serve.”

In fact, both visitors and hosts say, it may be those personal interactions that will yield the greatest results—the informal conversations about life, family, food, travel and “all the things,” Nadeau says, “that truly connect people.”

For Reagan, Sound Credit Union’s executive vice president, those things included a shopping trip with the Brazilian women to Seattle Premium Outlets.

“It was quite successful. We all came back with many bags,” Reagan says. “We also treated Raquel to dinner and a movie with some staff, a birthday celebration with my family, and as many ‘American’ things as we could.”

And that, Koch says, is exactly what she was looking for.

“Getting to know the locals, experiencing the culture and living as they do—these are the things that tourists miss,” she says, “and this is where I could discover the way of life in another country, with all of its subtleties.”

“I believe the exchange will help me develop leadership skills, self-confidence and a greater understanding of the complexities of the world around me,” Koch says, “and I hope to apply all of these skills in my credit union.” 

 

The World Council of Credit Unions’ International Credit Union Leadership Program is designed to give emerging leaders a chance to share innovative ideas and learn firsthand how to better serve an increasingly diverse membership. As part of the program, professionals from the U.S. will travel to Brazil in January 2014.

The U.S. State Department’s Professional Fellows Program brings emerging leaders from around the world to the U.S. for intensive short-term fellowships in nonprofit organizations, private-sector businesses and government offices; in 2013, an estimated 460 Fellows from 51 countries participated. For more on the department’s programs, go to exchanges.state.gov/us.

Questions? Contact Gary Stein: 503.350.2216, gstein@nwcua.org.

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