Mission to Moldova

Idaho delegation helps budding Credit Union Movement in economically challenged country.

Two Idaho credit union leaders and a senior executive from Catalyst Corporate Credit Union journeyed to Moldova in May to meet with leaders of that nation’s nascent credit union movement. They are continuing the World Council of Credit Unions’ (WOCCU) mission to help develop and modernize credit unions in Moldova—a small nation situated between Romania and Ukraine, and only liberated from the Soviet Union 26 years ago.

Moldova’s credit unions are called “Savings and Credit Associations” (SCAs) and are limited in the services they provide. Fewer than half of the country’s SCAs can both make loans and accept deposits.  There is no deposit insurance program.

Shane Berger, president and CEO of Rexburg-based Beehive Federal Credit Union, and Todd Christensen, SVP, marketing and business development at Meridian-based CapEd Credit Union, traveled to the region with Brad Ganey, SVP/COO of Catalyst Corporate. In addition to meeting with their financial industry counterparts, the American delegation met with staff from Moldova’s Credit Union Trade Association (CASCA) and briefed with a U.S. Embassy representative.

This marked Berger’s third trip to Moldova, and he’s seeing progress due to the WOCCU partnership.

“In almost all of the cities and villages throughout Moldova, the citizens either have no access to financial institutions, or are limited to banks and money lenders who charge exorbitant rates of interest,” Berger noted. “I have hope that through cooperatives like SCAs, more and more individuals in those communities will be served with reasonably-priced financial services.”

During Berger’s last visit, Moldovans asked for advice advancing their payments services, so Ganey made the journey this time to share expertise.

“SCAs lack elements foundational to a credit union’s operations, such as credit bureaus for loans and central deposit insurance funds. We want to provide education and tools to help move their payment services into a place of safety and soundness,” said Ganey.

Christensen made his first trip to share strategies on marketing, media, and public relations.

“Moldova has modern cities,” Christensen said. “But in terms of the credit union movement there, it was like stepping back into the 1960s and 1970s.”

Christensen noted that in the 1970s, American credit unions began offering “share draft” checking accounts. That’s where Moldova’s SCAs are now. He thinks Moldova’s movement could bypass physical checking accounts and plastic cards and jump right into smartphone delivery of those services.

In another milestone marking the success of the WOCCU partnership, Igor Purici, Board Chairman of Soroca Savings and Credit Association, showed Berger, Christensen, and Ganey the property where Soroca will soon build a new headquarters.

“The highlight of the trip for me was reconnecting with Igor, who visited Idaho last year and saw modern local branches,” Christensen said. “They just broke ground this month on what will be the first branch in Moldova built for that purpose.”

“The big picture objective of our visit to Moldova is to bless the lives of individuals and families living in villages and cities throughout Moldova,” said Berger. “Not-for-profit, member-owned financial cooperatives are critical as they provide an affordable alternative to all people, but especially those of modest means. Our ability to impact the financial lives of Moldovans in a positive way has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”