Gdańsk – a birth-town of ‘Solidarity’ movement – this July became a place of the International Conference of Credit Unions. Over 1400 representatives of credit unions from 53 countries arrived here

During the solemn opening of the Conference, the vice-president of the World Council of Credit Unions – Grzegorz Bierecki referred to the idea of solidarity which was at the base of Polish credit unions, celebrating 20 years of their existence this year; he thanked the Council for its help in creating Polish credit unions. – After the years of communism, during the exportation of the Soviet armies from Poland, transition of economy from communist into free-market economy, six young people began building credit unions in Poland from zero. It would have been impossibly if not for your help – he said.

‘Let’s Gdańsk’

The International Conference of the World Council of Credit Unions was held under this motto. Gdansk became a capital of the cooperative finances of the world for a few days. The discussions held in the building of the Baltic Philharmonics were attended by delegates from all continents. An honourable guest of the Conference was Lech Wałęsa. Wearing national clothes, the representatives of credit unions from Europe, Asia, Africa, South and North America and Australia gave their speeches. The Gdansk conference was aiming at the exchange of experiences and elaborating an action model of cooperative financial institutions in the century of domineering modern technologies. Hence, the panel sessions were devoted to, among the others, innovations in the field of paying systems, creating a budget of mobile financial services for not rich people and the role of mobile technologies. –We are acting locally but financial markets are acting globally – the challenges were concluded so by Brian Branch, a chairman and director of the World Council of Credit Unions. The International Conference of Credit Unions in Gdansk was held in the Year of Cooperative Movement announced by ONZ. As Grzegorz Bierecki stated – ‘a few billion dollars’ were visible in the auditorium. This potential draws attention of big players of financial markets whose example were Polish credit unions.

The World Council of Credit Unions

The World Council of Credit Unions – with its headquarters in Madison (USA)n gathers around 200 million members in over 53 thousand credit unions existing in 100 countries. Altogether actives are nearly 1.5 billion dollars. Its task is the regulation of cooperative finances in the global scale. It coordinates, regulates and supports credit unions credited all over the world. Institutions belonging to the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) care about raising economic consciousness and developing the idea of cooperative movement among their members, at the same time caring about the security of their savings. The first vice-president of the World Council of Credit Unions is the chairman of the National Credit Unions – Grzegorz Bierecki. Every year a different country is a host of the International Conference WOCCU. Conferences took place in: Rome (2005), Dublin (2006), Calgary (2007), Hongkong (2008), Barcelona (2009), Las Vegas (2010), Glasgow (2011), Gdańsk (2012). The next country is going to be Canada – Ottawa (2013). Credit unions are financial institutions belonging to their members – co-owners and services done from the elaborated market only to them. However, the cooperative movement has always influenced local, national and even international communities, supporting orphanages, social and sport organisations, animating cultural events. It also joins the global activity: development of rural areas (Sri Lanka), development of educational programs limiting the spreading of AIDS (Africa), help to the Haitians harmed by the earthquake.

Human face of finances

Credit unions as the only financial institutions were not touched by the financial crisis. Powerful banks were collapsing like flies and cooperative credit unions, built on human solidarity and trustfulness, maintained their finances untouched, and even they increased the number of members which was mentioned during discussions and which was emphasized during the press conference. This stability of credit unions and the growing tendency may raise distrust of financial lobby which influence the governments of countries in order to limit the activity of credit unions. It was mentioned earlier during the Conference of WOCCU last year in Glasgow by its honourable guest – the former prime minister of Great Britain Gordon Brown, who said that at the time of the great financial crisis which overwhelmed the world, ‘credit unions showed their human face of finances to the world’. He advised everybody to look carefully at the law ‘which may limit the initiatives of credit unions’ and also do everything ‘to change them so that they would act effectively’. Credit unions gather not only local, professional communities (for example drivers of London taxis) or ethnical communities (emigrants, national minorities) but they also attract the so-far clients of banks, disappointed by their commercial policy.

Bank Transfer Day

This disappointment towards banks in the USA found its consequences in a spectacular action started by Kristen Christian on social portals, including Facebook, under the name ‘Bank Transfer Day’. The action was responded to last November by 650 thousand people who opened their bank accounts in local credit unions, resigning from services of big financial institutions, directed only to benefits. The action became popular all over the world. It also gained its supporters in Poland. – In previous years credit unions were joined by about 200 – 250 thousand new members. In the first quarter of this year we have registered 176 thousand people who decided for the membership in the credit unions – said the chairman of the National Credit Unions. In Great Britain the groups of the credit unions have been enlarged by million people recently. In 2011 the American credit unions were joined by a million and a half of members and this year other 600 thousand people. The process of migration from banks to credit unions has been lasting for at least nine months. – Self-help institutions based on values are more and more attractive – said Brian Branch, a president of WOCCU, during the opening of the plenary session of the Conference. – In the United States there is disappointment by the federal government and big institutions of Wall Street – added Mike Mercer, a chairman of Credit Unions League in Georgia. Today American credit unions gather 95 million members with the capital amounting to a billion dollars.

Time of Credit Unions

Our native credit unions under the name of Cooperative Saving-Credit Unions were born in Gdansk on 31 August 1992. At their base there was eagerness of a few young people and the support and help of Lech Kaczyński, the later president of the Polish Republic. From the beginning their idea was: ‘Not for a benefit, not for philanthropy, but to serve others’. Initiators of Credit Unions respect Catholic social teaching with its principle of subsidiarity. They consider Franciszek Stefczyk as a patron of Credit Unions, referring to the tradition of cooperative movement of banks going back to the times of partitions. The self-organisation of the society of those times and self-help allowed to maintain the national community both from the economic and spiritual point of view. Patriotism of the creators and workers of the contemporary credit unions is visible in the actions undertaken for the sake of members of the credit unions, local communities and homeland. Today Credit Unions have 2.5 million members, using the services of 2 thousand places. They address a various offer not only to individual clients but also to a small business. Built on the native capital, Credit Unions are acting on the cooperative principles such as voluntary and open membership, democratic control, autonomy and independence. Every member is also their co-owner. – We protect our members against exploitation. This makes us different from banks. We also added a new postulate to credit unions – solidarity – said Grzegorz Bierecki during the Conference. – Strength and economy of the credit unions are proved by the fact that at the time of these 20 years of activity of Credit Unions none of the saving and credit unions went bankrupt.

Credit unions in Middle-Eastern Europe

Creators of Credit Unions gained their knowledge from experiences and American, Canadian and Irish examples of credit unions. Today Credit Unions are supporting the development of credit unions system in Ukraine, Lithuania, Moldavia Azerbejdzan and Belarus. For a few months there have been preparations to establish the first Polish credit union at the Catholic parish church in Lvov, a town with which Franciszek Stefczyk was related in a special way. Establishment of this credit union has a symbolic dimension for Poles – works on the preparations for the beatification process of Franciszek Stefczyk are just starting. – As soon as we learnt to walk independently, we started to teach others - said the chairman Bierecki. – Poland as a leader in this part of the world is organising trainings and is helping in establishing credit unions in the east. In our centres we train 200 chairmen of Ukrainian credit unions and also their workers. Today Ukrainian credit unions have 2 million members. Especially the late president of the polish Republic Lech Kaczyński looked at these actions favourably and he treated them as building of a positive image of Poland in the East and without spending one zloty from public money.

Worth Nobel prize

How important mini-loans on beneficial conditions are for the development of a small, often family enterprise which is a base of every economy and also activation of small creators – let’s take the acknowledging the Peace Nobel prize to Muhammad Yunus in 2006 for creating Gramee Bank in Bangladesh exhausted by the war, the institution which gave small loans for development of small enterprise. The prize was given for ‘the effort for the sake of creating conditions needed for economic and social development from basics’. The popularity of the action and the record retrieving credits prove the need of functioning of para-financial institutions of high social confidence. – Credit unions are not only financial institutions. These are modern organisations which are aiming at the fight against poverty and social exclusion – said Manuel Rabines from Peru, the chairman of WOCCU.

The support from governments

Governments of many countries know how important cooperative movement is for economic development, therefore they are creating programs supporting the activity of credit unions. In such countries as: Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Brazil and whole Latin America, the number of banks is so low (poverty of residents causes the situation that they cannot meet criteria given to them by commercial banks), that credit unions are playing a great role in the process of social re-integration of people and whole families excluded from society. The governments of these countries decided that a new concept of development is needed, which would use its own strength and resources, and the ideas of credit unions just meet these criteria.

Manuel Rabines gave an example of help which credit unions from Lima gave to farmers living in Peru at the altitude of 1200 m above the sea level. The community of 750 farmers received the support from Credit Unions in Lima in the form of plant seeds good for cultivation on this altitude, agrarian advisors who conducted education in a modern plant cultivation and farm machines. Help was widened by the organisation of markets and harvest distribution which allowed farmers to get rid of mediators. Such a complex help caused that the change of agrarian culture among Peruvian farmers gave them 350 per cent of benefits. The success gained by Peruvian farmers caused that credit unions in Peru gave a similar support to food and lama wool producers.

Serving to one’s members

‘Not for a benefit, not for philanthropy but to serve others’. The idea of serving to one’s members was often emphasized during the Conference. Serving with the best services, being with them in need, looking at them individually, adjusting oneself to their credit ability – this is a principle of credit union functioning. When Gdansk shipyard went bankrupt, Credit Unions of Stefczyk was the only one which gave credits to shipyard workers – said the chairman of the National Credit Unions Grzegorz Bierecki during the press conference. – Banks refused to help them because the workers were not able to pay back. They survived this difficult time thanks to the help of the credit unions. Credit Unions, that is cooperative credit unions, are a chance all over the world for economic independence, the independence from usurious loans in banks or para-bank institutions and economic education of wide social classes. During the conference of WOCCU Brian Branch, the president of the World Council of Credit Union said: - Polish credit unions used to gain knowledge from experiences and American examples of credit unions. After some time Poland changed into a leader in Middle-Eastern Europe, supporting the development of the cooperative movement of credit unions in the following countries: in Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Macedonia. Today the cooperative movement all over the world wants to use the solutions of Polish Credit Unions.

A monument of John Paul II and Ronald Reagan

Also the symbolic unveiling and sanctifying of the monument of John Paul II and Ronald Reagan inscribed into the celebrations opening the International Conference of Credit Unions. The monument was placed in the park under the name of Ronald Reagan in Gdansk – Przymorze. These two great figures, so much related with love of freedom and the collapse of communist system, gathered people at the celebration, related with a fight for independence of Poland, among the others, legendary activists of ‘Solidarity’ Stanislaw Fudakowski and Krzysztof Wyszkowski. The celebrations were also attended by the senator GrzegorzBierecki, the chairman of the National Credit Unions and the vice-president of WOCCU and Bill Cheney, the president of the National Association of Credit Unions in America. The celebrations were also attended by the president of Gdansk Paweł Adamowicz and the advisor of the USA embassy in Warsaw Michael Rosenthal. The monument was sanctified by archbishop senior Tadeusz Goclowski.

Prizes ‘Phoenix’ for the Primate Glemp and the late president Lech Kaczyński

During the session summing up the Conference of WOCCU, the highest rewards of Polish credit unions were given – the prizes ‘Phoenix’. In the year of the 20th anniversary of Credit Unions the Chapter of the Prize ‘Phoenix’ of the cooperative Scientific Institute gave the prize – after death – to the president Lech Kaczyński and the Primate senior cardinal Józef Glemp. The prize for the late president Lech Kaczyński was taken by a long-term co-worker of the president, a parliamentarian of the Law and Justice party –Maciej Łopiński. Because of the health problems, the celebrations were not attended by cardinal Józef Glemp. In the letter addressed to the participants of the Conference he emphasized that skilful handling material goods, especially money, should be a priority characteristics of the Christians. We have wonderful people who gave its example. A complicated world of finances requires today a constant moral vigilance and care about a man so that he would not become a mammon.

Receiving the prize for the late president Lech Kaczyński, Maciej Łapiński said: - ‘May the most important words for him: solidarity, community, truth, remembrance, patriotism, God, honour, Homeland – be our values.

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Do you know that…

Credit Unions guarantee savings equal to 100 thousand euro

The offer of Credit Unions:

Credit unions have always offered their members the highest rate investment . Savings in the credit unions is safe and beneficial.

Loans and credits
Everybody can use the loan offer of credit unions, regardless of the source of income. Loans available in the credit unions are given on beneficial and honest conditions and they are also adjusted to the needs and possibilities of credit unions members.

Credit cards
Visa card available in credit unions is a modern and convenient pay tool, which is used not only to draw out a cash from cash machines and make non-cash transactions but also for identification in the places of credit unions.

Bank accounts
Saving account is a convenient, safe and high-rate account, making it possible to save income in it, make payments, receive a loan and a bank card.

Credit unions members can also use insurance protection in Credit Unions: propriety insurances and life insurances. Within these first ones, it is possible to have home insurance, car insurance or buy travel insurance. It can also be done, without leaving one’s home – via internet.

Investment funds
Units of investment funds can be purchased not only in some places of Credit Unions but also on the phone or on-line.

Individual Pension Accounts
The Individual Pension Account is a voluntary extra payment, used to increase the future pension (the so-called third pillar). This account, guaranteeing life insurance without bearing extra costs, can be opened in every place of Credit Unions.

Capital Insurance Funds
Capital Insurance Funds are a method of collecting and multiplying savings, connected with life insurance.


"Niedziela" 32/2012

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: