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 then 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.Leave a comment
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?Leave a comment
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.Leave a comment
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.Leave a comment
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.Leave a comment
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.Leave a comment
Every new year brings new opportunities to create healthier lifestyle habits, establish goals and objectives for the coming year, and in some ways start life over. Unfortunately, most new year’s resolutions focus on physical health, rather than fiscal health. That’s an oversight few credit union members – or anyone, for that matter – can afford on their journey to long-term financial well-being.
Now is an excellent time for credit unions to help their Hispanic members improve their financial practices, foster wise money spending decisions and more effectively manage their own financial futures.
The first step is to help Hispanic members identify their financial goals for the new year. Here are a few questions credit unions can ask their members to help them chart the right course.
Is there anything you would like to stop or start doing financially? It is a simple yet powerful question that could make a member ponder. It is worth asking.
Asking these and other questions can be important in helping members set the course for a brighter financial future, one that might even give them the opportunity to take that long awaited vacation they have always wanted or make a larger purchase of something they need. It is difficult for credit unions or their members to understand or know how to reach their financial goals until those questions are answered.Leave a comment
This past year Coopera has had the opportunity to help multiple credit unions better serve their Hispanic constituents. We learned a lot in 2018, and we’re happy to see that both the credit unions and their Hispanic members benefited from our joint efforts.
Several critical trends emerged from among those 2018 successes. Here are three we believe have widespread application to credit unions across the nation.
1. Staff training opportunities have enabled more credit unions to share Hispanic market service and growth insights with employees at all levels.
Helping credit union staff – both new and experienced – understand the cultural nuances of serving all member segments has become an important growth strategy. In best-practice credit unions, cultural awareness training is no less important than financial and technological training, and it’s something we hope more credit unions embrace in the future.
Coopera is able to measure and score a credit union’s cultural sensitivity, enabling it to better communicate with Hispanic members. From that score, the credit union can adjust its operational thinking and practices so more Hispanic members feel understood and appreciated by the institution. Increased understanding, in turn, results in more and better service to those members, eventually leading to greater product engagement by Hispanic members in those credit unions.
2. Increased ITIN lending by credit unions both new to and experienced with such loans has resulted in larger loan portfolios and better member service.
Loans made using Individual Tax Identifications Numbers (ITINs) rather than Social Security numbers to verify identity are still new to many credit unions. But credit unions that understand the nuances of using this form of legal ID have discovered new and often untapped sources of loan demand and revenue. From payday loan alternatives to credit-builder loans to auto loans and even mortgages, the demand and opportunities for ITIN loans are helping both borrowers and lenders thrive.
Produced with the help of partner organizations, Coopera offers access to an ITIN lending guide that provides both recommendations and resources for such a program’s application and use. Access the guide free of charge here: https://filene.org/do-something/programs/non-citizen-lending.
While a program like ITIN lending is an opportunity to engage Hispanic members, credit unions offering only the foundation of such financial access without building a framework for its Hispanic members’ financial growth run the risk of losing those members to the competition. Coopera offers credit unions assistance in creating holistic solutions to help Hispanic members financially grow with the institution.
3. State credit union leagues are using Coopera’s solutions so that their member institutions increase membership to include Hispanics.
Leagues nationwide recognize their duty in providing tools for member credit unions grow, and more of them are finding greater growth by attracting Hispanic members by clearly showing the philosophical imperative and business case for it. As one of the fastest growing demographic groups in the U.S., Hispanics present significant opportunities for credit unions nationwide.
One of Coopera’s partner leagues, for example, has a goal of helping its credit unions reach 1 million members within the state. To assist them with this goal, Coopera provides “opportunity maps” identifying Hispanic groups for the league’s credit unions, enabling them to target, attract and serve members about whom they otherwise might not have known. We’re doing the same thing with other leagues as well, and look forward to future partnerships on projects such as this.
The initiatives outlined above illustrate how Coopera has actively helped the credit union movement reach out and better serve Hispanics throughout this past year. Coopera will continue these initiatives and actively exploring how to integrate more solutions and insights to reach underserved in the years to come.
We look forward to having you with us on the journey in the New Year!Leave a comment
Continuing our get-to-know series, this blog post features Yaneth Torres, client support specialist for Coopera.
My parents came to the U.S. from El Salvador and I was born in Los Angeles. Shortly after that, we moved to Perry, Iowa, where I grew up. I attended Grand View University, where I enjoyed being involved in multicultural events and clubs on campus.
After graduating, I was working as an administrative assistant at El Mariachi Restaurant, one of three restaurants owned by my uncle on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. I discovered this position on LinkedIn and learned more about it by talking with Kenia Calderon, the sister of one of my Grand View classmates, who also happened to be Coopera’s Client Relations Director. Despite Hawaii’s beauty, I jumped at the chance to return home and take a job serving fellow Hispanics.
How does your past experience reflect Coopera’s mission?
I always liked being involved in the Hispanic community. At Grand View I was part of the Multicultural Student Ambassadors Leadership program and the Diversity Alliance Club. I also mentored Hispanic students at Des Moines’ East High School. I believe my passion for serving Hispanics aligns well with credit unions’ service profile and Coopera’s mission.
What will you do as Coopera’s Client Support Specialist?
My position supports the delivery and fulfillment of Coopera’s products and services. This includes assessments and analytics reports, consulting, training, marketing services and translations. I’m part of the Client Relations team, and we all work closely together to coordinate client communications, support new-client onboarding processes and fulfill client requests.
What makes you a natural for this position?
I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a marketing emphasis. That background, along with my outgoing personality, will help me connect with and better serve Coopera’s clients.
Do you have a personal or business philosophy?
I always try to be on the lookout for opportunities to make a positive impact on whatever it is that I do. I manifest it daily by finding ways to help others, exceed expectations, and build positive relationships with those around me.
What would you like to see credit unions do to better serve Hispanic members?
It would be extremely helpful if more credit unions had diversified employee bases. Too often Hispanics don’t seek the type of services they really need due to language and cultural differences with an institution. Greater staff diversity would promote a freer exchange, which would result in better financial relationships for all involved.
What is the most interesting thing you’ve done that most people don’t know?
I once went shark-cage diving off of Oahu’s North Shore, Hawaii’s most famous surfing area. The boat took us three miles offshore and sunk a floating cage in the water that allowed four or five of us in the water at a time.
We were surrounded by sharks of all types and, even though we were well protected, I was freaking out. I finally decided I could do this, and it turned into a wonderful experience. I learned never to underestimate myself, and I had a feeling of tremendous accomplishment once it was all over.
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The most successful credit unions clearly understand the needs of the members they’re serving. In many cases, member analytics are at the heart of the strategies used to reach those members and meet those needs.
Analytics are especially important when it comes to serving Hispanics – either those who already are credit union members or those who have yet to become members. Understanding those markets through member data collected and interpreted by our team of experts at Coopera, helps credit unions effectively attract, recruit and ultimately, meet those members’ needs.
We’ve noted before that Hispanics comprise one of the fastest growing U.S. demographic segments, with one out of every six U.S. residents citing Hispanic origins. This group accounts for more than $1 trillion in buying power, and yet roughly half are unbanked or underserved. Hispanics present a prime opportunity for credit union service, one that will only grow over time.
Moreover, it’s one thing to bring Hispanics through your doors and another to involve them in your full menu of services. Analytics can tell a credit union key characteristics about their Hispanic members that can be used to determine the type of services they need and want the most. Ultimately, the credit union has the information to develop a strategy to successfully foster membership growth and product engagement from their Hispanic market.
Our team has developed tools that can sort Hispanic members into various groups, ranging from country of origin to socio-economic strata, that enable credit unions to better understand their members.
Our team of experts analyze the data using a variety of assessment tools. Our Hispanic Target Market Analysis looks at Hispanic populations within a credit union’s various branch areas, making service recommendations for primary and secondary Hispanic target markets based on numerous socio-economic indicators. We also utilize our Hispanic Member Analysis tool to measure the product and service usage of existing Hispanic credit union members, as well as their language preference.
Many credit unions begin their journey with our Hispanic Opportunity Navigator, which uses analytical data to create a literal roadmap for serving Hispanic populations. The data collected helps us create a suggested strategic development plan customized for each individual credit union.
These tools and the strategies reach beyond a credit union’s marketing initiative and helps executive teams establish success metrics that can help drive the institution’s future growth. Individualized guidance and the ability to approach the Hispanic market on a more holistic level is where our services differ from those of mere data collection firms.
Some credit unions still harbor concerns about the time, cost and effort it will take to serve what may be for them an unfamiliar market, many of whose members speak a different language. But with the right analytic tools this can be less of a challenge than they might think.
Serving Hispanics is something many credit unions have yet to understand, but it’s not something they will never understand. Because of the cultural and language differences, that service may require an augmented development strategy that operates a little differently than the institution’s mainstream strategic plan.
Fortunately, the return on investment for credit unions that have pursued the Hispanic market has been the most successful segment of the institution’s overall development plan. Using analytics is the best way to start that journey, or support a journey already underway to reach and serve this rapidly growing demographic.Leave a comment