Credit unions account for 20% of co-op members

20 Aug 2012

Credit unions account for one fifth of co-operative members worldwide, according to a report from the World Council of Credit Unions that shows there are now 196 million members worldwide, an increase of eight million since 2011.

Furthermore, smaller credit unions have joined forces and merged into larger institutions, a fact revealed by the decrease in the number of credit unions from 52,945 in 2010 to 51,103 in 2011.

The report also shows that 51,000 credit unions have assets of USD1.5 trillion (USD1,563,529,230,920). With 7,351 credit unions, the US leads in terms of assets, worth USD982 billion. The UK comes third in Europe with 405 credit unions with assets of USD1,372 million after Ukraine (610 credit unions and USD 24billion in assets) and Ireland (494 credit unions and assets of USD17 billion). Sri Lanka is one of the countries with the biggest number of credit unions — 8,440, with assets of USD 72 million. India and Vietnam come close with an average of USD 53 million in assets. Australia is another state with strong credit unions, only 106 with USD84 billion in assets.

Brian Branch, President and CEO of the World Council of Credit Unions said that figures indicate the growing influence of credit unions. Credit unions “work locally but co-operate globally,” said the CEO. "In countries around the world, smaller credit unions are merging to realise greater economies of scale and develop capabilities to deliver more services to members.

"The dramatic upturn in the number of members shows that credit unions are becoming more influential, and consumers are finding them to be better alternatives than many for-profit financial institutions," he added.

At the World Credit Union Conference held in July in Gdańsk, Youngme Moon, who is chair of the Harvard University MBA programme, said that credit unions are faced with a historical opportunity to raise awareness of their different approach to finance. The challenge for credit unions, in the context of the current financial crisis, will be to make customers easily understand in what way they are different from their competitors.

"Right now there is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to grow your membership. There is disarray in the financial services industry, dissatisfaction among consumers, and the biggest financial institutions generate the most distrust. You can't build a brand that's different without passion. For credit unions, differentiation comes from a sense of irreplaceability, and that will create a strong sense of loyalty,” she said.

In his speech at the Gdansk conference, Brian Branch added that the main feature that differentiates credit unions from other banks is placing members’ interests above all. Furthermore, credit unions will continue to raise awareness about their work and try to enable people in remote areas to have access to their services. 

The World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) is the global trade association and a development agency for credit union. The World Council promotes the sustainable development of credit unions and other financial co-operatives around the world to empower people through access to high quality and affordable financial services.

Picture: Credit unions have a "once-in-a-generation" opportunity to be different, says Harvard University's Youngme Moon.

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