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  • Including Diversity: The Time is Now

    Posted by on October 16, 2019

    Victor Miguel Corro

    Victor Miguel Corro

    One of the world’s most influential writers, Victor Hugo, once said, “Greater than the tread of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come.”  And when it comes to embracing diversity as one of the credit union movement’s guiding principles, not only has its time come, but we risk having the opportunity pass us by if we fail to wholeheartedly embrace it.

    Fifteen years ago, the leadership of the Iowa Credit Union League had a vision of how to better serve a rapidly diversifying population. Out of that vision and, in partnership with Warren Morrow, came Coopera, an organization specifically designed to tear down walls and build bridges between credit unions and the Hispanic community.

    Since that time, Coopera has reached beyond Iowa’s borders to help credit unions nationwide serve the largest minority population segment in the United States. Ask any of those early adopters today, and it’s clear just how positive the impact of those efforts have been, both for the credit unions and the Hispanic members they serve.

    But the past is only prologue to what lies ahead. Even with every credit union’s best intentions, previous efforts to increase diversity may have missed a critical need for representation at the highest levels, including the creation of diverse management teams and boards of directors. Such gap can certainly hinder our best efforts to continue broadening services to an increasingly multicultural membership base. In worst-case scenarios, credit unions run the risk of being less, rather than more inclusive, not only in providing services, but also in their governance and leadership structures. In the end, it is a matter of relevance.

    Historically speaking, the global credit union movement has been guided by seven cooperative principles first drafted in 1844 by the Rochdale Society in England. These principles have been revisited over the years by other cooperative groups, but today include voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, members’ economic participation, autonomy and independence, education and training, cooperation among cooperatives and concern for community.

    Although those principles do not specifically use the words diversity, equity and inclusion, each one of them touches on it in one way or another. All seven principles address the power of financial self-determination among members, but do not directly reflect the growing diversity of those members. Perhaps it’s time to make the credit union movement’s commitment more explicit.  This is something that CUNA’s board addressed within the last month. It’s time to create leadership structures that better reflect the country’s changing demographics.

    There’s been a lot of talk recently among credit union groups and individuals about taking action and making that commitment public. There will be even more conversations in the months to come. Given the current social and political struggles around these issues, credit unions – institutions that have been built on principles, not profits – must revisit, revise and restate those principles in ways that speak specifically to the 21st Century. These efforts start with each of us as individuals.

    The Greek philosopher Democritus once said, “A wise man belongs to all cultures, for the home of a great soul is the whole world.”  It’s clear the credit union movement was founded by wise men and women based on sound and equitable democratic principles. Let’s take those principles to decisively take the next step and make sure they include every member of our increasingly diverse population who needs and wants to participate equally and inclusively at all levels of their credit union, and, by extension, society.

    Now, not later, is the time to act on an important idea whose time truly has come.

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    It’s Time to Promote Hispanic MBLs

    Posted by on September 16, 2019

    Hispanic barista serving a coffee

    Credit union interest is growing in offering member business loans, or MBLS, even though strict regulatory limitations still exist. The lending rules are clear, but the amount of MBL dollars available differs based on a credit union’s size and the makeup and performance of its overall loan portfolio.

    With fewer MBLs available compared to other loans, the ones credit unions do issue should be given to well-performing entrepreneurs with the greatest need, and who can do the greatest good with those funds for their community. In our minds, Hispanic-owned businesses should be top contenders when credit unions make their MBL decisions.

    Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t. Hispanics are one of the country’s fastest-growing population segments, and also one of its most entrepreneurial. Moreover, loans to Hispanic-owned businesses are being increasingly targeted by banking industry competitors in a way that is frictionless and culturally relevant.

    A 2018 Gfk Social and Strategic Research study surveyed Hispanic and non-Hispanic business owners about their beliefs and practices. These results may surprise you.

    * Hispanic business owners are significantly more confident in overall economic growth than their non-Hispanic counterparts. In 2019, 68 percent of Hispanic owners believed their local economy would grow compared to 54 percent of their non-Hispanic counterparts. Although slightly lower, faith in national economic growth measured 59 percent and 55 percent, respectively.

    * Concurrent with their optimism, Hispanic business owners raised greater levels of concern over the rising cost of doing business. Those concerns included everything from increasing health care costs (70 percent for Hispanic owners versus 63 percent for non-Hispanics) to continued strength of the U.S. dollar (59 percent versus 42 percent, respectively) to credit availability (45 percent versus 29 percent, respectively). Such cautionary concerns added to their overall optimism place Hispanic business owners in a stronger and more realistic position to effectively compete in an open marketplace.

    Hispanic business owners surveyed about their future plans again outpace those of their non-Hispanic counterparts.

    * In 2019, 74 percent of Hispanic-owned businesses expected to increase revenues, compared to just 57 percent of their non-Hispanic counterparts.

    * For the same year, 51 percent of Hispanic owners plan to hire more staff, compared to 26 percent of non-Hispanic owners.

    * Finally, 28 percent of Hispanic owners say they plan to apply for loans, compared to only 14 percent of their non-Hispanic counterparts.

    This all adds up to greater optimism and market-readiness by Hispanic-owned business, 87 percent of which planned to expand their enterprise in 2019. It also means a greater need for available capital to help those businesses reach their lofty, but eminently achievable goals.

    Credit unions need to play an active role in this process through member relations and MLBs. Your Hispanic members,a highly motivated and growing market segment whose successes will benefit both sides of the lending equation, are relying on you.

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    Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month!

    Posted by on August 15, 2019

    Hispanic Heritage Month is right around the corner! Central American FoodThis year, the 31 days of celebration begin on Sunday, September 15, and end on Tuesday, October 15. During this special month, we recognize the centuries of contributions made to United States growth and development by Hispanics.

    For credit unions that serve large Hispanic communities, public recognition and celebration of the month can both honor the heritage of members and build stronger relations between them and the institution. But even credit unions that don’t serve large numbers of Hispanics should recognize the importance of what has become one of the country’s fastest-growing population groups.

    Many businesses find numerous ways to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. Here are a few ideas that you can use.

    Host employee and member luncheons or receptions featuring food and beverages from Latin American countries. Nothing brings people together faster than food, and a buffet of authentic dishes would create real interest from your community to want to learn more about the Hispanic culture.

    Hold a ‘lunch and learn’ event for staff that features a local Hispanic community leader. Find someone who can talk about the financial needs of the community and other topics that foster curiosity understanding and empathy. Too many people are reluctant to reach across the aisle and get to know people outside their social circle. This would be an excellent opportunity to break down a few barriers of cross-cultural communication.

    Conduct a credit union-wide charity drive to raise funds for a Hispanic need or educational opportunity. In addition to helping a good cause, employee participation can help raise awareness and empathy among credit union members, board and staff, all of which are key to greater cultural awareness.

    Aprende a hablar Español. (Learn to speak Spanish.) Whether it’s a new Spanish word each day for 31 days, impromptu dialogue lessons in the employee break room, or one-on-one tutorials between Spanish-speaking employees and those who want to learn, everyone benefits when everyone gets talking. Communication leads to understanding, and knowing the language is where it starts.

    Take cultural field trips. Chances are there is more activity going on among local Hispanic community members than you might think. Seek it out and encourage employees to visit Hispanic cultural centers, art galleries, dances, concerts and even food carts. Task those employees to describe their impressions at weekly staff meetings. That way everyone learns from each other’s experiences.

    ¡Fiesta! Feeling ambitious? Host an outdoor concert and mini-fiesta one Saturday morning during Hispanic Heritage Month in the credit union’s parking lot, serving food and featuring a live local Latino entertainment. Such an event can attract members and nonmembers alike, perhaps even drawing local TV news coverage because of the music, colorful costumes and festive activities. It’s a very visible way to show support for the Hispanic community and maybe even gain new members in the process.

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    Meet Alexandra Aguilar

    Posted by on July 15, 2019

    Alexandra Aguilar, an incoming senior at Iowa State University this fall, recently joined Coopera as a summer intern in marketing. This column is the latest in our getting-to-know-you series.

    Tell us a little bit about your background and how you arrived at Coopera.

    My parents are both from Mexico and wanted to come to the U.S. to find better opportunities and start a better life. They both arrived in California, but met in Iowa, where I was born and raised. I am going to be a senior at Iowa State this fall, majoring in marketing and entrepreneurship. I first learned about Coopera through a college roommate who knew [Coopera Client Relations Director] Kenia Calderon. I have significant experience in research and this opportunity really interested me.

    What will you be doing at Coopera this summer?

    We will be tapping into my educational and research background to conduct a survey of Hispanic members from various credit unions. We are interested in finding out why members choose a credit union over a bank to do their primary financial business. I will also be looking at how Hispanics like to be identified by their financial institutions and how credit unions can best relate to this community. This appears to be an unexplored area as we have yet to find an existing study like this one.

    What is Coopera’s purpose and how do you see yourself fitting into the firm’s goals and objectives?

    Coopera exists to help better serve the Hispanic market in credit unions through the process of growing Hispanic memberships and business within the community. My educational experience, as well as being a person of color who understands the culture, will help a lot in this area.

    Do you have a personal or business philosophy that guides your efforts?

    My personal philosophy is to help others and give back to the community. At Iowa State I served as secretary for the Multicultural Business Network this past year, which helps students network with organizations, helps them find internships with companies, and connects them with resources they otherwise may not know about. It’s important to me to do the very best I can to help others.

    How can credit unions better serve the Hispanic community?

    Understanding Hispanics goes far beyond merely translating marketing materials into Spanish. Not every Hispanic culture is the same and credit unions will experience greater success if they learn to understand and address the cultural differences among their members.

    What do you like to do outside of work hours?

    I like to travel a lot, have been to a variety of different countries and have had opportunities to study abroad.  I have been to France, Spain and Italy and would very much like to see Greece and maybe Japan.

    What is the best-kept secret about you that most people don’t know?

    If you were to meet me you may not realize that I have a hearing disability and wear hearing aids. I have challenges with it, but I always find ways to overcome those challenges and keep on going.

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    Hispanic ”Duality” Offers Both Challenges and Opportunities

    Posted by on June 18, 2019

    When I arrived in the United States in 1991 to study economics at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire on a Fulbright Scholarship, the first question people inevitably asked me was, “Where are you from?” I was born and raised in Panama, so the answer was easy each time I was asked. And I was asked the question a lot.

    For the most part, I’ve lived in the U.S. ever since that time. I married my wife—a Wisconsin native— and settled in the city of Janesville where we raised a son and a daughter. I was granted U.S. citizenship in 2014 and carry a U.S. passport. And I still get asked the question, “Where are you from?” These days, the answer isn’t quite as simple.

    Like many Hispanics in America, I identify strongly both with my country of origin and my adopted home. Fluent in both Spanish and English, I move comfortably in both worlds, and yet don’t feel fully a part of either one. There’s a duality to my life, an “in-between,” a situation that exists for many Hispanics. I tend to think of it as an “otherness,” with both feet planted firmly in each of two distinctly different cultures and not fully anchored to either one.

    Fortunately, I’ve turned what some see as an insurmountable challenge into distinct opportunities. It took a while for me as a young man to learn the norms and behaviors acceptable in my new American home. But I was an eager student and made it a point to understand and accept changes without fully losing aspects of my Panamanian culture and heritage.

    Since then, I’ve learned to use the traits of each culture to enrich and enhance my relationship with the other. My cultural duality has helped broaden my understanding, strengthen my skillset and move more freely and operate more effectively in a variety of settings. When you paint from a more diverse color palette, as they say, the end result is always both richer and brighter.

    My two kids are, of course, part Panamanian and I do my best to keep that part of their lineage alive. But to them cultural duality is far more conceptual than it is an actual part of their daily lives. It has always been interesting to me the role that parents play in acculturation and assimilation in households with immigrant parents. Each one is very different.

    As credit unions seeking to serve the Hispanic community, it’s important for you to understand the two worlds where Latino members navigate every day. We’ve said before that serving Hispanics is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. It’s a community of people as rich and varied as the number of countries from which they come, the social and economic strata in which they live, and the extended families that play so significant a role in each of their lives.

    Now add to that the notion of duality and its impact on first-, second- and third-generation Hispanic Americans. Their cultural heritage will always be present, but the duality may fade as assimilation becomes more complete with each succeeding generation. The way you treat any of the generations when they come to the credit union seeking services is often the difference between success and failure.

    Sound complicated? It doesn’t need to be. As a not-for-profit member service organization, it simply comes down to knowing your member and how best to meet his or her needs. The better you know Hispanic members the more effectively you will be able to serve them and the more business they will bring to the credit union. That’s a challenge that can result in greater opportunities for all.

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    A Dash to Help DACA Recipients Achieve Their Education Goals

    Posted by on May 15, 2019

    5k runners

    Image courtesy of Des Moines Metro Credit Union.

    Posted by Kenia Calderon on May 15, 2019

    Coopera is dedicated to helping both credit unions and Latino communities across the country grow together to realize their dreams and successes. We’re always pleased and excited to see and support such efforts in action.

    When we come across a credit union that goes above and beyond in helping Latino communities, especially the most vulnerable ones, we’re absolutely thrilled. That happened in April when $55.7 million Des Moines Metro Credit Union (DMMCU) stepped forward to financially support its staff members participating in the second annual 5K run and fundraiser in support of DACAmented students on the Iowa State University campus.

    DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that allows youths under the age of 16 entering the United States to work in country for two years before having to reapply for a work permit. The current political environment poses a threat to the future of the DACA program, which primarily affects Latino immigrants. The program’s success is critical to the Latino community’s growth and personally important to me since I, too, am a DACA recipient.

    DMMCU had already provided exemplary service to its Latino members and critical support to its DACA community. The credit union offers a Credit Builder loan program that enables DACA recipients to pay application fees and other costs associated with their immigration processes.

    DMMCU also offers loans for members using ITINs and supports local community events such as the Iowa Latino Heritage Festival and the Warren Morrow Latin Music Festival, an event named for Coopera’s late founder. More than half of the credit union’s staff members are bilingual, and some are DACA recipients themselves or have friends who are.

    By supporting staff participation in the DACA 5K run, DMMCU took its message of support directly to the streets, or at least the Iowa State campus, to stand in solidarity with DACA recipients and promote how financial institutions can support the community outside of their branches. Funds raised by the run will help support the financial needs of DACA students attending the university, none of whom are eligible for government aid such as FAFSA.

    As the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States, Latinos are playing a weighty role in the present and future of this country. DACA recipients are the Latino community’s next generation, and their ability to fully participate in the American society is critical not only to their success, but that of the country at large.

    According to a University of California – San Diego study, 95% of DACA recipients are either working or in school, 63% worked their way up to a better job, 54% bought their first car and 12% bought their first homes. They are active participants in the U.S. economy, in many cases thanks to help from their credit unions.

    Supporting DACA recipients will be critical to the continued growth of both the Latino community and the credit union movement. What is your institution doing to foster and support the process?

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    Coopera Believed in Me A Decade Before I Came OnBoard

    Posted by on April 19, 2019

    A 12-year-long impact and a bright future ahead.

    As Coopera’s Client Relations Director, I have the opportunity to guide our partners through their Hispanic/Latino growth strategies. Coopera’s impact could be described with many growth metrics, but it’s a much more personal topic for me. I believe I’m the result of what happens when credit unions see underserved communities as part of their family.

    Our late founder, Warren Morrow believed in me without even knowing me. He worked to partner credit unions with the Latino community for economic growth and vice versa. His vision for our Latino community included people like my family and me. People filled with aspirations and drive, while lacking support and financial guidance. I moved to the United States when I was 11 years old, therefore, I don’t remember what my parents’ relationship was with financial institutions in El Salvador. However, I can clearly remember how credit unions made me feel: refreshed. Credit unions and banks were some of the few places that had air conditioning and I’ve never mixed well with hot weather. As a kid, the credit union was a cold heaven for me.

    As one can imagine, moving to a whole new continent with absolutely nothing is not something a kid looks forward to. I saw my parents go from working in offices to sacrificing their bodies with multiple manual labor jobs. Even though they worked so many hours, the money never seemed to last. Four years after our arrival, they grew quite tired and frustrated about the cycle we found ourselves in. My parents’ main priority was to provide and pave a path for their children to achieve college degrees.

    My parents saw entrepreneurship as the opportunity that could get us closer to stability and higher education. At 15, I became their business and financial advisor. I urged them to open an account with a credit union because I knew I didn’t have the tools and knowledge to help them. It was a credit union who educated us about credit scores, checking account usage and the many benefits of a debit card.

    On Fridays, I would go in with my dad to deposit our business’ checks. The credit union staff came to know me at a very personal level. They quickly learned about my aspiration to earn a college degree and the obstacles I would face due to my lack of legal status.

    In 2012, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was announced and implemented; my family had to come up with over $1,000 to cover immigration and attorney fees. While I was filled with joy and excitement, I knew we couldn’t gather such an amount overnight. Through the credit union’s ITIN lending program, they were able to give me a small dollar loan that helped me apply for DACA and within 6 months, I had a work permit and a social security number. Our credit union believed in us and knew what this program meant to our family. The loan opened doors of opportunity for me and got me a step closer to a college education.

    From that moment on, our credit union became our trusted advisor. The staff would send private scholarships my way, helped me complete an Individual Development Account (IDA) program and gave me the financial education tools that my parents couldn’t provide for me at the time.

    The credit union that helped me in my youth, was a client of Coopera at that time. Coopera helped them implement an ITIN lending program and guided them in serving people like myself. Today, I get to help credit unions impact the lives of individuals who find themselves in similar spaces that I’ve navigated before. Working for an organization that is passionate to see credit unions and Latinos achieve greatness together is beyond rewarding. Credit unions and Coopera assure me that a better tomorrow is in progress.

    Happy 12-Year Anniversary, Coopera!

    Hear more of Kenia’s story as  featured on the Filene Research Institute podcast.

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    Credit Unions Build Cultural Bridges, Not Barriers to Serve the Hispanic Community

    Posted by on March 22, 2019

    Hispanic Heritage Month

    Credit unions are known by the communities they serve and their outreach efforts to make members, not customers, an active part of the institution. “People over profit” is, after all, the credit union mantra.

    More credit unions are actively reaching out to Hispanic communities in attempts to include them as valued members of their financial families. The most successful credit unions embrace the Hispanic community’s unique nature in ways that create a blended community of both the Hispanic and credit union cultures. It’s a better methodology than assuming that one size – specifically that of the credit union – fits all.

    There’s a need among Hispanic families for affordable and accessible financial services.  More than 16 percent of the Hispanic population is unbanked, according to data released by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. An additional 30 percent of those families are underbanked, meaning they rely on often costly services provided by payday lenders, check cashers and remittance transfer providers instead of financial institutions. But there is a better way.

    With their hyper local roots and service focus, credit unions have a natural advantage over banks when serving the Hispanic community. Credit unions that seek to understand and embrace aspects of those cultures into their own institutional DNA will have the best luck providing Hispanic members with critical financial services.

    At Coopera, we’ve helped numerous credit unions serve Hispanic members and have seen both the most and least successful of those efforts. A credit union that builds its service profile around one Spanish-speaking staff member – no matter what level of employee they are – may have the hardest time merging cultures. The designated individual may be very effective, but the rest of the institution’s culture likely will not have changed to meet Hispanic member needs. What’s more, if the Spanish-speaker were to leave, chances are those Hispanic members may follow.

    We’ve seen other misfires by credit unions that haven’t identified a specific reason to serve the Hispanic community. Clearly identifying a service goal gives the credit union a foundation on which to build its relationship, as well as a distinct identity in the minds of those members. Some credit unions have told us they want to help their Hispanic members build good credit, while others have said they want to assist members in affording their first homes. In either case, the goal builds the foundation.

    In the best cases, ongoing communications between Hispanic members and the institution – and within the institution itself – have resulted in effective service programs and welcoming environments that strategically intersect with the Hispanic community and make those members feel valued, understood and taken care of. As in all cases, the more you understand about the people and culture you’re trying to serve, the more successful that service will be.

    Hispanic community members often define relationships within the context of family and isn’t that what credit unions do as well? The successful blend of those families will benefit all.

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    Remittances Continue to be Relevant to Hispanic Families

    Posted by on February 25, 2019

    Few things are more important to Hispanics than family. In fact, both the nuclear and extended families – las familias – are highly valued by the vast majority of Hispanics both in the U.S. and throughout Latin America.

    It comes as no surprise that remittances, those funds sent to support family and sometimes friends, are an important part of many Hispanic household budgets. Credit unions that provide remittance transfer services are discovering how important and vital those services can be, especially given the growing U.S. Hispanic population and rising number of immigrants.

    Some 58 million Hispanics live and work in the U.S. according to the Pew Research Center, comprising roughly 18 percent of the U.S. population. Add to that the growing number of immigrants and you have a very large number of people seeking to send remittances home to family members.

    After a slight downturn in recent years, remittance activity among Hispanics has spiked with even greater growth anticipated. This provides credit unions a chance to serve more Hispanics and realize greater economic opportunities. In many Latin American households, remittances constitute a primary source of income, making the transferred money vital to those families’ financial wellbeing.

    The remittance numbers are worth noting. According to a study led by the Center for Latin American Monetary Studies (CEMLA), 2017 remittances from the U.S. to Latin American and Caribbean countries totaled $77.02 billion, with an anticipated increase in 2018 to nearly $90 billion.

    Remittances are sent through a variety of merchants, from banks to cafes to convenience stores, often at a cost of 7 to 9 percent of the total remittance amount. Credit unions, can process remittances at a more economical rate, easing the financial burden on senders and putting more money into the hands of the Latin American families who need it the most.

    In recent years financial institutions have started partnering with fintechs to provide remittances. As many Hispanics are young digital natives, they use digital touchpoints to send money abroad.  It is important to develop a digital strategy for remittances.

    If you already serve or seek to serve Hispanics, consider ramping up your remittance program to help service the growing demand. As a source of transfer fee income and a member service opportunity, fulfilling this need can be unmatched among the services your credit union offers.

    It also is an effective way to increase the number of Hispanic members and their loyalty to your institution, as well as help them preserve their cultural traditions of helping la familia.

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    What Credit Unions Can Learn from the Travel Industry’s Hispanic Experience

    Posted by on February 5, 2019

    With snow blanketing the ground and cold winds swirling the arctic air, few things sound better than summer vacation. Can you feel the sun-warmed sand between your toes?

    Your Hispanic members feel the same way. In fact, summer is when most of them travel for leisure or home to visit family and friends. But now is the time to plan and reserve the services they need to travel comfortably. We’ve noted this before, but the trend is even more prevalent when it comes to travel, Hispanics prefer to research and book their travel primarily online or through mobile applications.

    Hispanic travelers comprise a large market for travel companies. As one of the fastest growing U.S. demographics, Hispanics spend $56 billion annually in leisure travel, according to the National Tour Association. In addition, 79 percent of Hispanics take at least one vacation per year, while 17 percent take three trips per year. Hispanics have many emotional ties to their country of origin, so they are very likely to go back even a couple of times a year when they can.

    So, what are the travel companies doing to win the business of Hispanics?

    The key to usage and growth of the travel industry’s Hispanic market has been to have a Spanish-language website that caters to Hispanic members’ cultural needs. More hotels, airlines and other travel industry members have added these sites, and their profits have grown because of it.

    Take the airline JetBlue. Six weeks after deploying a Spanish mobile website, the airline’s Hispanic traffic grew by 80 percent. Since then revenue from Hispanics visiting the site has grown 300 percent, enrollment in JetBlue’s loyalty program grew 200 percent and nearly 50 percent of all Hispanic customers visit the site via mobile devices.

    The data makes it clear that establishing Spanish-speaking and culturally friendly sites is an investment that pays off. For credit unions, that means creating online sites and mobile applications that segments within their Hispanic membership want.

    In addition, you may want to consider improving your search engine optimization so that Hispanics looking for financial institutions find your credit union first, as well as making localized on-site searches easier. And don’t forget that many legal names include a tilde and/or accent mark. Your site must accept those symbols, especially since exact spellings are important to matching travelers’ valid IDs.

    Making it easier for Hispanics to learn about your financial services in their preferred language, will make them much more loyal to you in the future. Just ask JetBlue.

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