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Two CUs bring fee-free ATMs to remote Mexico
CORDOBA, Mexico (1/21/10)--This past weekend, two credit unions in Mexico became the first rural financial cooperatives in the country to bring fee-free automatic teller machines (ATMs) and debit cards to their members.
Click to view larger image Luis Jara Pullas, World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) program director for Mexico; Dolores Rivera Ramírez, general manager of Caja Zongolica; and Brian Branch, WOCCU executive vice president and chief operating officer, show off the credit union's new debit cards at a press conference on Friday.
It is a landmark achievement for Caja Zongolica and Caja Yanga, credit unions that serve highly marginalized areas of the country, said the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU). Both credit unions participate in WOCCU’s development program in Mexico, funded by the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fishing and Food (SAGARPA) through its Proyecto de Asistencia Técnica al Microfinanciamiento Rural (PATMIR) project. “We've learned how necessary it is to have a well-run institution, but it's not enough,” Brian Branch, WOCCU executive vice president and chief operating officer, told the group gathered for Caja Yanga's ATM inauguration. “We need to bring financial services to members where they are--in their homes, businesses, rural areas--when they need it. Technology is the key to member service, and Caja Yanga and Caja Zongolica are examples for rural credit unions everywhere.” Branch was in Mexico before he traveled to Haiti Tuesday to help with earthquake relief efforts. Zongolica is an indigenous region, one of the poorest and most marginalized in Mexico, said WOCCU. It is best known for its coffee production and the beauty of its remote yet vast mountainous terrain. Despite sporadic downpours on Friday, hundreds of members gathered in Zongolica's main square to celebrate. “When the members saw the construction for the ATM installation [at the credit union], they asked me whose it was and which bank it belonged to,” said Dolores Rivera Ramírez, general manager of Caja Zongolica. “We are very proud that this credit union in the mountains was the first to employ this type of technology.”
Click to view larger image Rosa Pérez Tlaxcala, a founding member of Caja Zongolica, was the first to use the credit union’s ATM. (Photos provided by the World Council of Credit Unions)
Today, 16-year-old Caja Zongolica’s seven branch offices have more than 20,000 members. Rivera Ramírez said the new technology complements its growing portfolio of services and, while technology can seem “cold” without face-to-face interaction, the ATMs--open 24 hours--stimulate savings and save members time. Caja Zongolica's ATMs are currently on a closed network. The credit union hopes to connect with a national banking network later this year. For founding member Rosa Pérez Tlaxcala, 63, having an ATM at Caja Zongolica means she no longer has to wait an hour to withdraw money from a teller inside the credit union. Pérez Tlaxcala was the first member to use the ATM at Zongolica's branch office, withdrawing 200 pesos (US$15) from her savings account. She said she was very proud that the credit union was modernizing, and she looked forward to accessing her account from an ATM outside of Zongolica as the network expanded. Later this year, Caja Zongolica will implement point-of-sale devices in local businesses to sell air time for cellular phones, and its field officers will begin using personal digital assistant (PDA) devices to access account information and perform financial transactions when they visit members. Forty-five miles to the north, Caja Yanga will become the first rural credit union to join a national banking network when it connects later this year to Promoción y Operación, S.A. de C.V. (PROSA), a clearinghouse for electronic bank and credit card transactions in Latin America. The move means the credit union’s 40,000 members access their money and make purchases with their Caja Yanga debit card at any ATM or business throughout the country. “[The ATM project] brings quality services to members 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” said Eduardo Rojas Camacho, board president of Caja Yanga. “It's very difficult to express what this means for members.” The credit union celebrated the official launch of its first ATM on Saturday and showcased how field officers use 35 PDAs to perform transactions when visiting members in 317 remote communities in Veracruz state. Field officers performed 80,960 online financial transactions on the PDAs in 2009.
Click to view larger image Caja Yanga’s new ATM machine will give members access to funds 24 hours per day.
“Caja Yanga wants to be a part of bringing financial services to people living in poverty in rural areas in a way that improves their quality of life and the economic development of our country,” Margarito Saavedra Morales, general manager of Caja Yanga, told the crowd at the inauguration. Caja Zongolica and Caja Yanga members can use the ATMs for withdrawals, balance inquiries, accessing a history of transfers and changing their personal identification numbers. Soon they will be able to purchase air time for their cellular phones and transfer money. Both credit unions worked with Enla-C, a credit union services group wholly owned by WOCCU, credit union associations and individual credit unions in Mexico, to achieve the necessary levels of compliance and security with the lowest possible commission rates. Enla-C serves financial cooperatives. It achieves economies of scale with the demands of its shareholders and thereby offers products such as debit cards at discounted rates, making the buy-in for small credit unions much more affordable. Both Caja Zongolica and Caja Yanga will have fully operational ATMs in three branch offices within several weeks. In addition to the ATM in Zongolica, Caja Zongolica has installed ATMs in Tequila and Atlahuilco, and Caja Yanga has ATMs in Yanga, Córdoba and Cuitlahuac. Another credit union, Caja Las Huastecas, will install ATMs in rural Querétaro (northern Mexico) later this year.
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