GDAŃSK, Poland-Lech Wałęsa, former head of Poland's Solidarity party and the Nobel Peace Prize winner who led a revolution against Communism in this country, called on credit unions to lead a revolution of their own.

Wałęsa, speaking to the opening session of the World Council of Credit Unions' World Credit Union Conference at the Polish Baltic Philharmonic hall, urged CU leaders to lead the way at the local level.

"In order to lead the world into the 21st century, we need to reach for values," Wałęsa said. "There is great service that you can provide in helping us achieve this revolution."

The meeting attracted approximately 1,400 people from 50 countres, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Credit unions in the host country have in near record time built one of the most progressive and successful credit union communities in history.

Panel Debates Effects of All The Regulations

GDAŃSK, Poland-A panel discussion noted the recent global financial crisis has caused the pendulum of credit union regulations to continue its swing toward more stringent oversight, and panelists said that movement can affect both credit unions and the regulators who oversee them.

The panel, titled "Point Counterpoint: Finding Regulatory Balance in the Era of International Standards," included David Phillips, president and CEO of Credit Union Central of Canada, and Andy Poprawa, president and CEO of the Deposit Insurance Corporation of Ontario (Canada); Mark Lyonette, chief executive of the Association of British Credit Unions Ltd., and Martin Stewart, head of U.K. Banks and Mutuals of Great Britain's Financial Services Authority; Bill Cheney, CEO of CUNA, and John Kutchey, deputy executive director and COO of NCUA. It was moderated by Louise Petschler, CEO of Abacus Australian Mutuals.

Worries Over Being 'Swept Up'
"In Great Britain, we're a small segment and we're worried we'll be swept up with other financial institutions," Lyonette said. "Fortunately, credit unions are getting good political and public support."

In the U.S., credit unions aren't asking for more regulation, Cheney said. "If we continue down the path we're on without distinction between banks and credit unions, we may end up with no local financial institutions."

Canada's Poprawa urged credit unions to remember that "regulators don't write the rules. It's not us you have to convince, but your respective governments."

Regulatory impact on small start-up credit unions also warranted discussion from the group, as did the need for directors educated in a broad range of skills to provide effective oversight for their institutions. A better educated and balanced board on which members have financial services industry experience will help keep the credit union on track and moving in the direction of member service, according to Stewart.

'Don't Lose Sight'
"But let's not lose sight of the fact that credit union directors are elected by the members," said Penny Reeves, a director for Canada's Servus Credit Union and a former World Council director, who raised her question from the audience. "We can't afford to lose that democratic principle."

All regulators on the panel agreed that credit unions got good marks during the financial crisis for helping consumers instead of turning their backs on them like many banks. The resulting good will follow credit unions well into the future, according to Kutchey.

Canada's Phillips added a point that resonated with many Americans. "In Canada, the prime minister established a body that operates on the one-to-one rule," Phillips said. "If you're going to draft a new regulation, you have to repeal an existing regulation that has similar financial impact. That speaks to the need for exercising some restraint on our regulatory burden."

Mexico's Ramirez Wins 'Global Women's Award

GDANSK, Poland-Dolores Rivera Ramirez, general manager of Caja Zongolica in Veracruz, Mexico, has won the Global Women's Leadership Network's 2012 Athena Award. Rivera was honored with the annual award at the Global Women's Leadership Forum, held in conjunction with the World Credit Union Conference.

The award honors outstanding achievement in support of credit union development, particularly as it relates to worldwide credit union women's leadership development. "Rivera has consistently proven herself a key leader in the international movement since starting a credit union in 1994 to meet the needs of poor residents in her rural community in Mexico's Veracruz state. Under her leadership, the credit union has grown to more than 40,000 members," WOCCU said.

Harvard Prof: 'Stand Apart To Stand Out'

GDANSK, Poland-The Donald K. David Professor of Business Administration and chair of the Harvard University MBA program, Youngme Moon, told the world's credit unions that when it comes to capturing market share, success is not always about creating something better-sometimes it is about creating something different.

Moon stressed there is a need and an opportunity for financial cooperatives to stand apart from the crowd.

"Right now there is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to grow your membership," Moon said. "There is disarray in the financial services industry, dissatisfaction among consumers, and the biggest financial institutions generate the most distrust. But are you different from your competitors in a way that's easily understood by consumers?"

Businesses have a tendency to make changes in lockstep with their competitors, Moon noted, which makes them no more than another provider in an already crowded field. Companies able to capitalize on their differences - even to the point of emphasizing their perceived negatives in their product or service portfolio - stand a better chance of creating a persona unlike that of competitors and truly setting themselves apart.

"You can't build a brand that's different without passion," Moon said. "For credit unions, differentiation comes from a sense of irreplaceability, and that will create a strong sense of loyalty."

One Big World, But One Big Commonality

GDANSK, Poland-WOCCU Brian Branch said that in his travels to credit unions around the world he has seen success driven by one commonality.

"It is all about what is best for the member," Branch said. "As credit unions, we have a set of values that champion the common person and emphasize the financial empowerment of those members."

In recent years, two themes have emerged critical to the future of credit union success, according to Branch. The first is messaging and the growing need to articulate the credit union advantage in ways that are compelling and attractive to consumers. The second is increased accessibility, defined as delivering credit union services remotely and generally through handheld electronic devices to members whenever and wherever they need them.

These and other key attributes will help define the credit union difference, Branch stressed. "We operate locally and cooperate globally," Branch said. "This is how we will build a credit union community."

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