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Idaho credit unions help one of Europe’s poorest nations

This is typical equipment for a Modovan farmer, the Idaho Credit Union League says.
This is typical equipment for a Modovan farmer, the Idaho Credit Union League says. Provided by CapEd Credit Union

An association of Idaho credit unions is sharing its members’ knowledge of finance and cooperatives with counterparts in a former Soviet nation in Eastern Europe.

Four members of the Idaho Credit Union League went last year to Moldova, a nation of 3 million people sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine. Moldova is about the size of Maryland, or of Ada, Canyon, Owyhee, Gem and Elmore counties combined.

This year, it was the Moldovans’ turn to travel. Eight Moldovan credit union members visited Idaho in August. Their trip included visits to the CapEd, Icon and Simplot Employees credit unions in the Treasure Valley, and the Idaho Department of Finance in Boise.

Idaho and Moldova share a need for local capital to spur community investment and support growing business, says the league, a trade association in Boise for about 30 Idaho credit unions.

“Working with credit unions in Moldova took me back to the early days of my credit-union career,” says Shane Berger, CEO of Beehive Federal Credit Union in Rexburg, in a news release issued through CapEd Credit Union. “Beehive FCU was very small then and had limited services. Since then, we have found ways to grow and prosper, and our message to Moldovan credit unions is that they can do likewise.”

Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Remittances account for more than 20 percent of gross domestic product, and the country faces a brain drain as educated youths seek better opportunities elsewhere, the association says.

The country’s land supports agriculture, though farm output has suffered since Russia banned Moldovan produce and wine. Russia objected to Moldova’s decision to sign an association agreement with the European Union in 2014.

The lack of access to credit limits the growth and export potential of rural businesses. Credit unions are the only financial institutions serving some areas.

Besides Berger, travelers to Moldova included David Lawrence of CapEd, Will Hall of the Idaho Credit Union League, and Rob Taylor of the Idaho State University Credit Union.

The exchange was fostered by the World Council of Credit Unions. The exchanges are expected to continue.

David Staats: 208-377-6417, @DavidStaats. This story appears in the Oct. 19-Nov. 15 2016, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine. Click here for the Statesman’s e-edition, which includes Business Insider (subscription required).