WOCCU Latin American Delegation Shares New Technology and Collaboration Models on Northwest Visit


The delegation enjoyed a rare opportunity at Unitus Community Credit Union’s Salem branch. They witnessed a total solar eclipse.

The World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) brought a diverse delegation of directors, managers, IT, and human resources staff from Latin American credit unions to Portland and Southwest Washington this August. They came from Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru. They brought their countries’ technology and collaboration models to the U.S., and they left with new friends and ideas after an unforgettable experience.

WOCCU exchanges are intended to be eye-opening, but for this delegation, that took on a new meaning. Their tour began on a historic day — Aug. 21, 2017 — the first time in 38 years that the nation experienced a total solar eclipse. Unitus Community Credit Union President/CEO Steven Stapp, who is also Vice Chair of WOCCU’s Board of Directors, hosted the visitors at his credit union’s Salem branch, where they saw a spectacular show in the path of totality.

Providing an inspirational experience was important to Stapp, who has been wowed many times during his own WOCCU visits to other nations.

“I’ve learned that credit unions have the power to change peoples’ lives. It allows families to save, and to send their kids to school, to have jobs, to be industrious,” said Stapp. “The things I’ve brought back to my credit union, I’ve seen how [credit unions in other countries] work within their communities, how they support school systems, how they support health care systems, and how they reach out into communities in ways we haven’t necessarily done here in the United States. That’s really been inspirational to me.”

Unitus President/CEO Steven Stapp huddles with the WOCCU delegation

The Latin America delegation enjoyed three days of branch tours, dialogue with their American counterparts, deep dives into technology, and networking with the Southwest Chapter of Credit Unions. Northwest credit union representatives fielded detailed questions about board governance, technology, and how lending decisions are made.  The knowledge the visitors shared with Northwest credit unions was not a surprise to Stapp, who says some of their credit unions have a leg up on technology.

“The first time I actually saw mobile banking was in Ecuador,” Stapp says, “because they had to leapfrog into this new technology world. They had no traditional mail system they could rely on to send statements, so they actually pioneered many technologies.”

Modernization and technology were big topics during the delegation’s tour of Portland-based Consolidated Community Credit Union. The credit union’s sleek and functional design impressed delegates, and they had many questions about how to manage branch remodeling projects. CEO Larry Ellifritz and Marketing Manager Jeff Berard demonstrated online account opening, and shared Consolidated’s success helping smaller credit unions with their mortgage lending programs.

Collaboration among cooperative credit unions is often shared during WOCCU exchanges. Stapp has seen many examples in Latin America, such as multiple cooperatives sharing one central core operating system and saving significant money as a result. In Guatemala, he said, each credit union has its own brand and identity, but they share common signage identifying themselves as credit unions, so it’s easy for consumers to find them.

In his next term on the WOCCU Board, Stapp sees continued focus on growth.

“We have a goal to add millions and millions more individuals to the Credit Union Movement by strengthening the credit union system throughout the world,” he noted. “We’re doing a lot of work to make sure the regulations worldwide are appropriate so that credit unions can continue to grow.”

Stapp is not the only Northwest credit union executive to have a global role in WOCCU. Numerica Credit Union’s President/CEO Carla Altepeter is also on the Board of Directors. Stapp would like to see even greater Northwest engagement.

“I would love to see more credit unions here in the Pacific Northwest get involved with the worldwide movement. There is so much that we can learn from our counterparts around the world; how they operate their credit unions and of course they want to learn from us, but when we grow this mutual sharing we really strengthen our entire system,” Stapp said.

Credit unions interested in participating in WOCCU exchanges should contact Northwest Credit Union Association Community Manager Carmen Vigil.

Posted in Around the NW.