MADISON, Wis. (11/1/10)--A recent report released by the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) and The World Bank Group reveals that 45% of financial cooperative branches--more than any other type of financial institution--are located in rural areas where financial services tend to be least accessible.
The report, Financial Access 2010: The State of Financial Inclusion Through the Crisis, also states that financial cooperatives hold the second largest global network behind commercial banks, with 23% of all physical branches, automatic teller machines (ATMs) and point-of-sale (POS) terminals worldwide. World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) encouraged CGAP and The World Bank Group to take a closer look at financial cooperatives for this year's report and continues to collaborate with researchers and policymakers to recognize the contributions of financial cooperatives worldwide. Report findings were based on a survey of financial regulators in 142 economies representing 94% of the global population and 98% of global gross domestic product (GDP). “These statistics highlight the crucial role that credit unions play in ensuring financial access, especially in rural areas,” said Dave Grace, WOCCU vice president of association services. “The challenge for many countries is how to translate this into higher membership growth.” WOCCU’s development programs help bridge the gap in access to financial services by working with credit unions to expand services to underserved rural communities in countries around the globe. In Mexico, WOCCU is deploying new technologies to bring services to remote areas more quickly while ensuring profitability for the credit unions. And across the world in Sri Lanka, WOCCU is working with a women’s financial cooperative to implement an agricultural lending program that combines technical farming assistance with agricultural lending. During the past three years, WOCCU’s program in Mexico, funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fishing and Food, has worked with 54 credit unions in 22 states to expand 235 points of service into rural, marginalized areas. Through a combination of building rural branches, installing ATMs and providing mobile financial services in outlying communities, the credit unions have brought more than 200,000 people into the financial system. Some credit unions have employed the use of personal digital assistants (PDAs) on field visits to increase the efficiency and accuracy of financial transactions. WOCCU said its partnership with Sri Lanka Women’s Development Services Co-operative Society, a network of more than 120 branches, has helped strengthen the volunteer-run institution to expand rural outreach and develop a savings and agricultural lending program for women farmers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded program has not only increased financial access for women farmers and their families, but also has helped raise the income of some rice farmers as much as 71% by connecting them with established markets and agricultural training. As in Mexico and Sri Lanka, credit unions worldwide are employing innovative strategies to reach and better serve their membership. For more about WOCCU’s efforts to improve financial access through credit unions, use the link.