(Editor's note: many thanks to Coastal FCU, Truliant FCU and the World Council of CUs for their assistance on this story.)
David Jamshid and Mayra Gamarra recently returned to North Carolina after a two week journey to Guatemala. The young credit union professionals visited the country as part of the World Council of Credit Unions' International Credit Union Leadership Program (ICULP), a cultural exchange initiative supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Office of Citizen Exchanges.
Gamarra, Jamshid and seven other young US credit union professionals visited Guatemala from June 10-23 in order to learn more about MICOOPE, which is the country's largest credit union system. As part of their visit, the pair stayed with a host family and interned in a local credit union.
Gamarra, the Bilingual Deposits & Lending Specialist at Truliant, interned at Colua Credit Union. "A typical day for me at the Colua Credit Union began with a morning huddle," Gamarra said. The huddle was a daily staff meeting done in order to keep the staff updated on important news. "We discussed any news pertaining to the economy, new promotions and ended the huddle with a prayer."
|Gamarra, the Bilingual Deposits & Lending Specialist at Truliant FCU, says that MICOOPE's mobile branching impressed her. "A way of thinking about it is that 'if the member cannot come to us, we will go to the member,'" Gamarra said of MICOOPE's service to remote areas of Guatemala.
|Jamshid (right), a Senior Business Analyst at Coastal, was impressed with the level of cooperation among the 25 credit unions that make up MICOOPE. "It showed me how much can be accomplished when credit unions work together to solve common problems."
Jamshid, a Senior Business Analyst at Coastal, was impressed with the level of cooperation among the 25 credit unions that make up MICOOPE. "MICCOPE was envisioned back in 2006 as a way to integrate credit unions under one brand. As you might expect, it took them a couple of years to get buy-in from the credit unions and to figure out the colors and logos."
MICOOPE today has an impressive footprint, with 1 million members and a combined 190 branches across Guatemala. "They've been very effective in differentiating themselves in the marketplace, and have a stated goal of growing to 1.5 million members by the end of the year," Jamshid said. Overall, there are 225 credit unions in Guatemala, so reaching the ambitious goal involves bringing more credit union stakeholders into the concept.
As you might expect, providing financial services can be a challenge in more remote areas of the country, but Gamarra notes that MICOOPE has successfully overcome this obstacle through mobile branching. The employees of the credit union regularly travel to the location of the members to collect their deposits, accept loan payments and conduct other business. "A way of thinking about it is that 'if the member cannot come to us, we will go to the member,'" Gamarra said.
Gamarra said this high level of commitment to serving members has helped transform local communities that have traditionally struggled to gain access to credit and basic financial services. "It's created a sense of trust between the credit union and the community."
The purpose of ICULP is to develop professional skills among young credit union leaders worldwide. U.S. participants were selected through an application and interview process that evaluated leadership skills, adaptability to new surroundings and the potential to initiate change in their credit unions.
"The leadership program is developing young credit union leaders from Guatemala and the U.S. by helping them understand both the cultures and credit union systems of each other's countries," said Brian Branch, World Council president and CEO. "In addition to strengthening the individuals and the systems they represent, this type of exchange program also helps enhance the global credit union movement."
During Jamshid and Gamarra's first week in Guatemala, the World Council provided an onsite orientation to cover logistical and cultural aspects of the trip. MICOOPE executives provided an overview of the Guatemalan credit union system and an explanation of their shared branding strategy and consolidated back-office operations. All MICOOPE system credit unions use the same branding and adopt consistent member service standards, while sharing back-office operations such as human resources and marketing.
After their first week, participants moved from their hotels to stay with families of credit union staff to gain a better understanding of Guatemalan culture and tradition. Spending time with Guatemalan families is part of the program's cultural aspect and designed to help participants experience what life is like for a typical Guatemalan.
Gamarra spent the week with Victor and Venancia Tale, her host family. Victor is a credit union board member. "They were truly my family while in Guatemala. Through them I learned most about the Guatemalan culture," Gamarra said.
Participants then spent the week serving credit union internships. Each participant was placed in one of the 26 MICOOPE credit unions to get in-depth operational training by shadowing employees across departments. Through the internship, participants learned best practices and strategies the credit unions use to overcome their limited resources and attract new members.
Jamshid & Gamarra returned to North Carolina in late June, and both noted that the experience gave them a new frame of reference for the credit union and cooperative systems. "It showed me how much can be accomplished when credit unions work together to solve common problems," Jamshid said.
Editor's note: in January 2013, ICULP's fourth and final phase, 11 U.S. credit union participants will visit the Dominican Republic for two weeks to experience a program similar to the one in Guatemala. The application period for this opportunity will open October 2012. For details and an application, contact Joshua Fetting, International Partnerships officer, at email@example.com.