Not A Job For Those Looking For Regular 9-5 Gig

Much of the world will be focused on the U.S. this week, and the U.S. will be (at least a little) focused on much of the world.

The 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has been marked with moments of silence, remembrances, prayers-and an almost unprecedented amount of media coverage. Nearly every angle of the tragic events of 9/11-from the intelligence failures to how to discuss the tragedy with children-has been and is being explored on TV as well as in print.

Credit Union Journal provided special coverage in our Sept. 5 issue; and in this issue you will find one person's very thoughtful perspective.

Much of the coverage of the past few weeks has had to do with how the United States fits into the rest of the world, and the various lenses through which the rest of a changing world now views the United States. Similarly, while it doesn't often get much attention from CEOs and managers for whom there is no room left at the Inbox, the oft-referred-to credit union "community" is really one of "communities." And sitting atop those communities and acting as a United Nations of Financial Co-ops is the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), which has a new CEO at the helm (who's an old hand in the international CU movement).

The New Face

"I've been with this organization for a long time," acknowledged that new CEO, Brian Branch. "This is a different job than what I did before, which was running the operations and being involved in the field. I still will do that, but now have responsibilities for broader strategy and member relationships. I'm looking for greater focus and depth in the things we do. We have done a lot of experimentation, some of which as worked and some of which has not."

Branch, a 20-year WOCCU veteran, took over the top spot following the retirement of Pete Crear, under whom the group saw significant growth. And Branch said there remain opportunities to grow the member organizations of WOCCU. He noted that WOCCU has little membership from Asia, even though there are some sizeable CU communities on that continent. For example, 5.5 million Koreans belong to credit unions, but their national association does not belong to WOCCU.

"I also want to focus on project development, such as electronic and mobile banking," said Branch. "We have done a lot of work there. We have worked in Kenya for many years, and now have 2.5 million members there. [Kenya's] Safaricom has 10 million [mobile] users today that some see as a competitor, but I see it as a great opportunity for credit unions to...increase membership."

In his six years as CEO of WOCCU, Crear had become well known in this country and dozens of others as a charismatic leader who was comfortable on the (world) stage. Branch proved there would be no drop-off in that regard when he addressed WOCCU's recent meeting in Glasgow and spoke without notes and with passion about what unites credit unions and the opportunities ahead.

"The CEO needs to project the strategic vision," said Branch. "I spend a lot of time on operations and markets and trends in CU systems, and I do find that very challenging and stimulating. Being the face of WOCCU is a bit new to me. For the past three to four years I have been working more with credit unions in the U.S., and part of my challenge now is to tell our story in a way that is relevant and compelling. There is a lot of interest in the U.S. in how credit unions can better use mobile and can collaborate. We are finding some very common problems and issues. And that is my challenge. With the developed movements in the U.S., Canada, Ireland and Australia, the issues are what are the similarities and what are the differences in responses to the challenges, and what have been the lessons learned in those countries."

U.S. credit union leaders that dismiss the idea of anything to be gained on the other side of a border will likely rethink that when they discover, as Branch reminded, that the interchange issue with which American credit unions are wrestling is one Australia's CUs faced several years ago. The Aussies can offer insights into "how it affected them and how they have dealt with it," said Branch.

Similarly, Branch pointed to the compliance burdens and globalized standards out of Basel standards. It's those commonalities, said Branch, and the "common language of credit unions," that helps keep WOCCU's diverse board focused. That board has had to keep its eyes on WOCCU's balance sheet, which Branch said has held up well despite the global recession.

The Other Trickle-Down Effect

"We have seen a decrease in our supporter contributions, but now we are starting to see our supporter contributions coming back. Dues were not affected. Members have wanted more contact and information from the outside world. There has been less support from donors and governments for projects. All are facing fiscal challenges of their own. That is an adjustment for us."

The budget is just one of those things any leader of any organization has to deal with. For Branch, the job offers a much larger reward. "WOCCU has members from 100 countries and may have a project in 40 of those countries at any one time," he said. "This isn't a job for someone who likes a standard, normal day every day."

Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at fdiekmann@cujournal.com.