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Lutz helps St. Lucia CUs adapt to changing economy
CASTRIES, St. Lucia (4/7/08)--When the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) pressed volunteer Steven Lutz into service in January, the senior vice president and chief financial officer for GECU, El Paso, Texas, packed his bags for Kenya. But civil strife in the African country redirected Lutz to the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, where he helped credit unions address their delinquency issues and adapt to changes in the island economy.
Steve Lutz, right, senior vice president and chief financial officer of GECU, El Paso, Texas, enjoys a break with Anthony Herman, treasurer of Choiseul CU in St. Lucia. (Photo provided by the World Council of Credit Unions)
St. Lucia has 19 credit unions serving 60,000 members, approaching half of the island’s population. Lutz worked with three credit unions, ranging in size from $3 million to $44 million in assets. “St. Lucia’s credit unions offer two products--savings accounts and loans--and these services are delivered face-to-face by employees who do what’s in the best interest of the member sitting across from them,” Lutz said. “It was inspiring to see the credit union mission alive and well.” Lutz worked with Saltibus Cooperative CU, Choiseul CU, Laborie Cooperative CU and the St. Lucia Credit Union League to help address the country’s changing economy. “Tourism has discovered St. Lucia,” he said. “Land value is increasing and developers are converting a lot of agricultural land into resort developments. Prices in general are going up.” St. Lucia credit unions offer basic savings and lending services, but there are no checking accounts, no ATMs or credit bureaus. As the economy expands, credit unions will have to adjust by putting more safeguards into place. “The credit unions here are very well-grounded philosophically and are trying to do the right thing,” Lutz said. By assisting them with the development of loan collection policies and procedures, Lutz can help them to “perform in the best interest of all members while still providing the close, personal service they are accustomed to.” Lutz also helped lay the groundwork to strengthen St. Lucia credit unions’ capabilities in agricultural lending, part of a larger initiative WOCCU is undertaking with OAS Staff FCU in Washington, D.C., the Organization of American States, and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture. “Lutz displayed a consummate capacity to listen, discern and analyze varying situations in a different cultural small-island setting across several rural credit unions,” said Melvin Edwards, WOCCU chairman and representative of the Caribbean Confederation of Credit Unions. “He was able to convince the leaders and employees to take aggressive steps to minimize loan delinquency levels and make the shift to risk-based lending.” Lutz’s visited was sponsored by WOCCU and the St. Lucia Credit Union League. The league will soon sign a partnership agreement with the Michigan Credit Union League, as a part of the WOCCU International Partnerships Program. So far, 27 U.S. states and Canadian provinces have signed reciprocal support agreements with developing credit union movements. Further development activities by WOCCU and OAS FCU are planned for this year.
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