New WOCCU CEO Notes How Tech Has Changed the Biz Model

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GLASGOW, Scotland-Few people have ascended into the CEO's job at the World Council of Credit Unions knowing as much about the international CU movement as Brian Branch.

Branch, who became CEO earlier this month following the retirement of Pete Crear, noted he has been with WOCCU for more than half of its 40-year lifespan.

"When you think about what your parents wanted for us, and what we want for our children, this is what credit unions help people to do," said Branch. "What we do crosses borders and cultures. We often talk about differences, but we have more in common than in contrast. The credit union model works in nearly all countries."

Branch began with World Council working with credit unions in South America during a time of conflict in many countries. He said he found that people hunker down in credit unions during conflicts, and then CUs help them to emerge when those conflicts are over. "The lesson for me is that credit unions help restart economies," said Branch. "But they also do more: they pull people together."

So what lies ahead for credit unions around the world?

"In country after country we see credit unions facing much smaller margins. A lot of credit unions are struggling with how to scale up and create efficiencies," said Branch. "I see associations coming together, just as credit unions are sharing back-office expenses. There will always be trade-offs. There are greater efficiencies, but the credit union ethos is working in the community with individual members."

Branch noted that for much of his career the standard operating procedure has been to build a branch in a new community and then use a marketing program to bring the member to the branch. But as credit unions in Ecuador, Kenya, Haiti, Mexico and other nations are demonstrating, mobile technology has turned that procedure on its head.

"Technology offers us a great advantage to take the credit union to the member where they live and work," said Branch.

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