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N.C. CU staff visit Mexicos Caja Yanga
RALEIGH, N.C. (9/5/12)--Credit union staff from North Carolina visited Aug. 19-25 with representatives of Mexico's Caja Yanga to share marketing best practices. World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) coordinated the visit to the 71,000-member credit union, located in Veracruz, a state in Southern Mexico.

Members of the Semilla Cooperativa group in the village of Amplacion Pozorron, Mexico, gather to make deposits and loan payments. Javier Contreras (left) of Caja Yanga processes the member transactions. The North Carolina Credit Union League and the World Council of Credit Unions' representatives accompanied Contreras as part of their week-long visit with the credit union in Mexico.  (Photo provided by the North Carolina Credit Union League)

Ashley Ruffin, senior vice president of marketing for Local Government FCU in Raleigh, N.C., and Jeff Hardin, director of communications for the North Carolina Credit Union League, met with representatives of the board of directors, senior management and marketing teams of Caja Yanga throughout the week. Joshua Fetting, WOCCU international partnerships officer, joined Ruffin and Hardin for the week's events.

Caja Yanga has made great strides in marketing by hiring a group of graphic designers and marketing staff, Ruffin said. "Previously, the credit union outsourced quite a bit of its design work, but more recently it has brought all that work in-house," he explained. "The quality and consistency of its materials made an immediate leap forward by doing so, and its work is comparable to many large credit unions in the U.S."

Caja Yanga operates seven branches in the western part of Veracruz state. The economy there is largely farm-based, with coffee and sugar cane two of the major crops. Several small-to-medium sized cities contain a growing professional class of workers who increasingly rely on the credit union for services, the North Carolina league said.  

For more remote farming communities, accessing financial services can be difficult due to lack of transportation and as a result, many people in rural areas have traditionally been unbanked. To help bridge that gap, Caja Yanga employs the Semilla Cooperativa methodology that WOCCU developed several years ago.

Semilla Cooperativa--or "cooperative seed"--is a series of mostly small savings and lending circles located throughout the Caja Yanga service area. Once each month, a field officer from Caja Yanga travels to each Semilla Cooperativa group to accept deposits and loan payments. The U.S. visitors traveled to one such group during the week.

"The Semilla program looks a lot like the U.S. credit union movement did 100 years ago," said Hardin. "Members of these small groups know each other personally, and they come together each month and transact business. As such, there's transparency and a real accountability factor in play."

Although separated by language, the meetings between the U.S. and Mexican groups pointed out many similarities in service delivery and cooperative values. "The North Carolina League and Caja Yanga have been long-term partners with the World Council, and we are glad to see them collaborate and share techniques to achieve membership growth through targeted marketing and awareness campaigns," said WOCCU President/CEO Brian Branch.

Branch added that "exchanges such as this help World Council build the global credit union community."

The week of meetings may be the start of a series of visits between Caja Yanga and North Carolina credit unions. "These visits enrich North Carolina credit unions and help them to be more successful," said league President/CEO John Radebaugh. "As such, we are always open to these types of exchanges."
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