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Colombia forms new CU trade association
BOGOTA, Colombia (1/20/12)--Eleven of Colombia's 192 credit unions are forming a new credit union trade association in response to growing regulatory burdens and an increasing need for advocacy.

This week's meeting between World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) leadership and members of the new Colombian credit union trade group included (from left): Brian Branch, WOCCU president/CEO; Luis Fernando, Creafam; Vincente Pabon, Congente; Victor Hugo Camacho, Cooptenjo; Marco Antonio Fonseca, Coofisam; WOCCU Chair Manuel Rabines; Juan Carlos Borda, Alianza; Jesús Medina, Commerciacoop; Juan José Camargo, Sumared; and WOCCU Project Director Oscar Guzmán. (Photo provided by the World Council of Credit Unions)
The Asociación Colombiana de Cooperativas Financieras y de Ahorro y Crédito was established in December. The new association met this week with World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) Chairman Manuel Rabines of Peru and WOCCU President/CEO Brian Branch.

The new organization represents a positive step for Colombia's credit unions, said Rabines, who is also president/CEO of Federación Nacional de Cooperativas de Ahorro y Crédito del Perú (FENACREP), World Council's member association in Peru.

The founding credit unions serve 600,000 members and control 30% of all credit union assets in Colombia, a country whose 192 credit unions serve 2.2 million members, or 7.5% of the population.

Some Colombian credit unions have recovered their space from setbacks in the 1990s, and now there are credit unions with as much as US$400 million in assets and serving 300,000 members, Rabines said. "To organize an association is part of the process of integration, first among credit unions, then with their national cooperative federation and one day with World Council at the international level."

WOCCU has worked extensively in the past with Colombia's credit union movement, now 50 years old. Since 2003, the global credit union development agency has participated in four programs to help strengthen Colombia's credit unions and help them grow, especially in their outreach to poor population segments in rural areas.

The Colombian government invited WOCCU to replicate its Semilla Cooperativa [cooperative seed] rural outreach model, originally developed through a World Council program in Mexico, to expand financial inclusion in some of Colombia's most marginalized areas.

WOCCU will train and equip credit union field officers to travel to remote communities to deliver services using mobile technology, helping to expand the existing credit union networks and reach rural people who formally had no access to financial services. The three-year, $2.5 million program will employ mobile technology to bring financial services to 100,000 previously unbanked people in rural and low-income communities nationwide.

Continuing development efforts and the formation of a new trade association should give Colombia's credit unions the structure they need to grow and expand services, Branch said.

"World Council has worked with many of these credit unions for several years now, so we are familiar with their leadership, their financial soundness and the quality of the services they provide," Branch said. "We are glad to see them organize and become part of the international community."
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