Credit Union Affairs

Unitus Credit Union CEO Steve Stapp Reflects on his Time as WOCCU Chair

Originally published on 7/28/2020, by the Northwest Credit Union Association.

Now, more than ever, the world needs credit unions as it navigates unchartered waters, Stapp says.

Steve Stapp, President and CEO of Portland-based Unitus Community Credit Union, recently concluded his service as Chair of the World Council of Credit Unions after the organization held its 2020 Annual General Meeting.

Stapp served the WOCCU Board of Directors for seven years, most recently as Chair since 2018. WOCCU is the global trade association representing credit unions and other cooperative financial institutions. More information about the organization’s 2020 Board of Directors may be found online. Rafal Matusiak, President of Poland’s National Association of Cooperative Savings and Credit Unions, was elected Chair during the annual meeting.

Anthem reached out to Stapp to get his thoughts on the role the World Council of Credit Unions plays within the Credit Union Movement and his reflections on the past seven years.

Anthem: What do you see on the global front for the future of the Credit Union Movement?

Stapp: The next few years are going to be extremely challenging in the wake of COVID-19. This disease has impacted both developed and undeveloped countries as it runs unchecked around the world with devastating impact on both human life and economies. Credit unions, like all financial institutions, will be challenged, however two aspects are very unique — credit unions are much more aligned with the needs of the community and trusted and credit unions assist each other, so while we have some countries impacted, others that are not will continue to provide assistance. With just over 274 million credit union members worldwide, I anticipate that will exceed 300 million by 2030, which will demonstrate not only the growth of the Movement but the reliance of the Movement even during difficult times.

Anthem: Thinking back on your time serving as WOCCU Chair, what was the experience like? What surprised and moved you?

Stapp: I have served on a number of boards in the industry, including as Chairman of Financial Service Centers Cooperative, Inc. (FSCC/Shared Branching Network), and this was by far one of the most challenging experiences and yet very rewarding.

Honestly, I was surprised how advanced and inclusive that credit unions are around the world and how they do so much more with such little resources. I saw this from both very developed credit union systems, such as Canada, Australia, South Korea and Brazil, to countries that were emerging, such as Costa Rica, Colombia, and Mexico. It is not uncommon for a credit union in South America to have thousands of credit union members vote in a contested Board election, as they view this as a democratic movement much more than their own country elections. Also, many of these country movements have community programs that extend beyond many of our traditional U.S. models and provided much needed infrastructure support for medical, social, and small/minority owned businesses. Credit Unions in both Brazil and Guatemala have learned to combine network resources so that they sustain membership growth rates of 15-20% per year, which is quite impressive.

Anthem: What do you feel were some of your — and WOCCU’s — proudest achievements during your time as Chair?

Stapp: Just prior to becoming Chairman, I headed a task force to re-shape the governance model of WOCCU. It was during a time that there were many competing priorities, cultural differences, and internal political barriers. As I became Chairman, we were able to put that model in place and as a result, there was greater alignment on the mission, vision, and duties of the organization. It allowed for other ad-hoc committees to be formed and real focus on the issues, challenges, and strategic needs of credit unions around the world.

For example, advocacy focused on ensuring that we have proportionate regulations at the international level, Project Funding is from multiple sources, and education/network programs are vitalized and expanded. The Worldwide Foundation was split off with a separate Board and is now focused on raising funds for disaster recovery and project development. This allowed for “project storm-break” or a rainy day fund for disasters to be started. Our goal was $100,000 and just after Hurricane Dorian struck the Bahamas, over $400,000 was raised and relief was provided much faster than in previous disasters. The project portfolio has also been expanded with projects in Haiti, Ukraine, Peru/Ecuador, Kenya, Senegal and Mexico.

In addition, the Young Professionals program was re-designed and support was provided from Brazil in terms of a model/involvement. Now it is one of the most energized programs with participation of generally 100 individuals around the world to more than 300 in the virtual conference.

Anthem: How has WOCCU shaped the global Credit Union Movement over the years, in your perspective?

Stapp: WOCCU has helped shaped the global Credit Union Movement along its three pillars of Advocacy, Development, and Networking. WOCCU has been at the forefront of women’s issues and formed the Global Women’s Leadership Network (GWLN) over 10 years ago and now is a leader in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. GWLN not only has local chapters in the Pacific Northwest, but also has over 100 chapters from all over the world. This allows credit union women leaders and men to come together to help promote education, improve learning, enhance networking, and encourage cooperation.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is now getting attention in the Movement. This has been on the WOCCU agenda for the past several years and those learning opportunities are being shared in order to shape and re-form the U.S. Movement. Based upon our discussions last year at the World Credit Union Conference, we decided at Unitus to form our DEI Committee — this is giving employees a greater opportunity to be heard on sensitive issues that are important to them and then taking meaningful action steps to improve. Not only will this benefit our employees, but also the membership and community.

Anthem: What, in your view, is the value of a global connection between credit unions and how does that ultimately help serve members?

Stapp: As credit unions are part of the community, they are much closer to the community and member needs. My first credit union international experience was through in-the-field engagement in Ecuador. When a flood wiped out an entire community that was downstream, community members formed a credit union to help in the rebuilding process. Although the credit union started very small, they provided much needed capital to small business so that they could restart and ultimately build savings and lending products for housing and farm/agriculture products. As the community developed trust in the credit union as a vital part of their economic engine, they began to invest and save more. Today, this credit union is the largest in Ecuador and technically advanced in providing digital services to their members and supporting additional community programs.

“I would encourage credit union employees to get involved with the worldwide Movement, either through volunteer work, Global Women’s Leadership Network (GWLN), or World Council Young Credit Union Professionals (WYCUP) programs. There are wonderful opportunities for learning, leadership, and networking with individuals around the world.”
— Steve Stapp, President and CEO, Unitus Community Credit Union

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