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Polish CU System thrives WOCCU told
SOPOT, Poland (9/16/08)--Credit unions in Poland evolved like financial cooperatives elsewhere in the world, serving members of the country's maritime, mining and other major industries. As those industries changed, the Polish movement broadened its focus and now enjoys even more success.
NACSCU President Grzegorz Bierecki provides an overview of the Polish credit union system to a delegation from the World Council of Credit Unions. (Photos provided by the World Council of Credit Unions)
"Our market has changed as the big dinosaurs of Soviet industry have been downsized," Grzegorz Bierecki, president of the National Association of Cooperative Savings & Credit Unions (NACSCU), told members of a World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) engagement program They are visiting the country this week to advocate on the credit unions' behalf before Polish Parliament. Credit unions are now pursuing a wider common bond, which is driving rapid growth. The growth outlined by Bierecki, who is WOCCU's board treasurer, helped the Polish credit union system, called SKOK, grow faster and provide more services than any other movement in recent history. Currently, NACSCU has 62 affiliated credit unions serving 1.8 million members through 1,708 points of service. Consolidated assets in the NACSCU system total US$4.1 billion and continue to grow. Bierecki introduced himself to credit unions in the wake of the Solidarity movement, which helped liberate Poland from the Soviet Union's rule. In helping research financial systems for the newly democratic country, Bierecki found a perfect match in credit unions' one-member, one-vote ideal. In the early 1990s, he visited the U.S. and participated in Capitol Hill visits with members of Georgia Credit Union Affiliates (GCUA), the league that eventually partnered with NACSCU through WOCCU's International Partnerships program. "They were real students of democracy, and we were intrigued with their interest," said Mike Mercer, GCUA president and a participant in this week's advocacy efforts. The Georgia delegation took Bierecki to visit Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Rep. Newt Gingrich (R.-Ga.) during CUNA's Governmental Affairs Conference. The lawmakers were impressed with Bierecki's dedication and encouraged Poland's credit union growth, which to-date has been impressive, Mercer said.
Georgia Credit Union Affiliates President Mike Mercer takes notes during a presentation by NACSCU President Grzegorz Bierecki. GCUA is a partner of the Polish credit union system through the World Council of Credit Unions' International Partnerships program.
"Polish credit union growth rates have been spectacular, so much so that they have been able to assist credit union movements in other countries to the east," Mercer explained. "Polish credit unions are at the front of the cooperative financial movement today. They did it through dedication, conviction and exceptional leadership, because at the time they didn't have much else." The WOCCU delegation will accompany Polish credit unions leaders to Warsaw on Thursday to advocate against amendments to Polish credit union law recently introduced by the banking industry. If enacted, the amendments could severely curtail credit unions' service to members. "I don't think there is much chance that harmful legislation will pass because the Polish credit union movement is too well-connected to the government and the hearts of the Polish people," Mercer said. "However, if the new law does succeed, it would seriously throttle credit unions' abilities to serve the Polish people. It's a serious threat, and one that crops up whenever credit unions succeed." Joining Mercer in advocacy efforts are Joe Bergeron, president of the Association of Vermont Credit Unions; Bill Cheney, president/CEO of the California & Nevada Credit Union Leagues; Barry Jolette, CEO of San Mateo CU, Redwood City, Calif., and WOCCU first vice chairman; Jim McCormack, president of the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association; Mike Schenk, vice president of economics and statistics for the Credit Union National Association; and WOCCU staff.
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