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Northwest Credit Unions to Explore Rabobank’s Cooperative Structure at Convention

Like American credit unions, Rabobank Nederland’s governance model includes volunteer directors. Attendees at the NWCUA Convention and Annual Business Meeting will learn how Rabobank thrives with cooperative structure, global reach and local roots.

Rabobank’s worldwide reach and EUR 732 billion in assets belie its cooperative roots. While the Netherlands-based financial services provider now serves millions of people in multiple countries, it was founded in the late 19th century in agricultural communities for people who were not being served by banks. Only members could apply for loans, and the community was then responsible for repayment of debits.

While Rabobank today supports nearly 900 foreign business locations and serves 10 million customers, it maintains much of its cooperative structure. According to the 2011 Annual Report, Rabobank is comprised of 139 independent, local cooperative banks in the Netherlands. Nearly 2 million of the consumers using its services are still called “members,” and the governance model shares several traits with American credit unions.

Arnold Kuijpers, Rabobank’s director of corporate affairs, will share the Rabobank story with attendees at the Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA) 2012 Convention and Annual Business Meeting this fall in Vancouver, Wash. Kuijpers will deliver the keynote address at the General Session on the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 3.

In an interview with “Anthem” this week, Kuijpers acknowledged that the 2012 model for managing volunteer directors is much more complex than it was 100 years ago. Whereas members coming from farming communities all knew, trusted and supported each other, the modern director, as in an American credit union, must now thoroughly understand the job description, be familiar with the intense regulatory environment and commit to training programs Rabobank provides.

Rabobank’s cooperative bank members elect local boards that meet four times per year. The regional boards do have some professional representation, Kuijpers said, noting the local bank general managers participate.

“We want to have general managers of local banks on the board for some level of understanding,” Kuijpers said. He added, however, that volunteer participation extends to a national governance level, where 72 volunteers are part of the Central Delegates Assembly. They meet with and recommend policy to the national executive board. The driving question for grassroots volunteer directors, Kuijpers said, is always, “How is this significant for our customers, and why should we do this?”

According to Wikipedia, Rabobank is the evolution of two cooperative bank conglomerates formed in the Netherlands in 1898— Coöperatieve Centrale Raiffeisen-Bank in Utrecht and Coöperatieve Centrale Boerenleenbank in Eindhoven. The organizations cooperated to a degree until they merged in 1972 and established headquarters in Amsterdam.

While the extensive network of cooperative banks in the Netherlands has continued to flourish, Rabobank has been on a steady and successful path of international expansion since the 1980s. It is now a global agricultural financial mega force.

Rabobank America has established banks in many California communities, serving farmers, ranchers and agribusiness companies.

Kuijpers looks forward to addressing Northwest credit union leaders this fall and says his conversation with attendees could “transfer our experiences to credit unions’ benefit.”

“For serving their members or customers with good products at reasonable fees, institutions will have to cooperate within the group more and more,” Kuijpers said. “But this cannot be achieved when they are not willing to give in on control and autonomy. Institutions always have difficulty in doing that. However, the question is not, ‘What is good for the institution?’, but ‘What is good for the members?’”

In addition to Kuijpers, other keynote Convention speakers include Jeff Russell, senior advisor for The Members Group; and Neil Goldman, senior partner of Goldman Consulting & Strategy, Inc. Russell will talk with attendees about transitioning at least three emerging markets—younger consumers, Hispanics and small businesses—into primary financial institution (PFI) promoters. Goldman will share results of a consumer research project he completed this year for NWCUA members, which resulted in a nine-point action plan to best share the credit union message and position the movement for continued growth.

Registration for the 2012 Convention and Annual Business Meeting is available online. Tradeshow exhibitors are also invited to register online.

 

Questions? Contact Training Programs Coordinator Yuri Jung: 206.340.4817, yjung@nwcua.org.

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