A decade ago, the roots of Coopera were planted by a visionary credit union leader with big dreams for the future. Warren Morrow saw more than 45 million Hispanic people, each working to enrich their communities across the country.
He asked, “How can credit unions become providers of choice for dignified financial services in this emerging community? How can the credit union industry better serve this segment – the largest, fastest-growing, youngest and most financially underserved minority group in the United States?”
Rather than wait for those questions to be answered, Warren set out to answer them. His enthusiasm for improving the financial lives of Hispanic consumers was contagious. As more leaders in the credit union movement saw the opportunities, Coopera began to grow.
Over its 10-year history, Coopera has worked with more than 200 credit unions, credit union system organizations and non-credit unions located in 30 states across the country and has served more than 1,000,000 Hispanic consumers. The firm applies the diverse expertise and skill sets of its leadership to carry out the vision of Coopera’s founder.
Within its first year, Coopera, in partnership with the Iowa Credit Union League and Iowa Credit Union Foundation, launched a state-wide asset-building and savings account program for working Iowans and partnered with credit union associations in New York and Louisiana to mobilize more cooperatives around the mission of serving Hispanic members.
By the end of 2009, Texas, Nebraska and Georgia credit union leagues, as well as the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) had joined in the mission. Together, CUNA, the leagues and Coopera built tools, conducted research and created educational programs.
As the first decade of the new Millennium was coming to a close, CUNA and Coopera teamed to create El Poder es Tuyo (The Power is Yours), the only Spanish-language personal finance website for Hispanic credit union members. Today, the site reaches Hispanic members in more than 14 states across the country.
Building tools to improve the financial lives of Hispanic consumers continued. In 2001, Coopera partnered with its payments processing sister company TMG, now a part of CO-OP Financial Services, to build a prepaid card especially for the unique needs of the Hispanic consumer. The card was rated as the 5th Most Affordable Prepaid Card by NerdWallet.
Five years into its mission, the Coopera team lost its founder when he passed away unexpectedly. Yet Warren’s crystal clear vision continued to guide the leaders of this fast-moving company.
California and Nevada credit unions got on board in 2012, partnering with Coopera to study the Hispanic consumer segment and create multi-state educational opportunities for credit union leaders.
As Coopera honed its research and training skills, it became evident these were core competencies that could benefit even more cooperatives throughout the country. As a result, the company launched a series of Hispanic Market Analysis tools and an online resource library for professionals who wanted to grow their own Hispanic market expertise. Credit unions using these analysis tools have seen annualized Hispanic membership grow nearly four times as fast as that of non-Hispanic members. What’s more, checking and lending penetration rates at these credit unions have increased twice as fast as that of non-Hispanic members.
In 2015, Coopera’s decade of achievement was recognized alongside its AMC family of companies with one of the highest honors the credit union industry has developed, the Herb Wegner Memorial award.
Over the past several years, Coopera and its partner the Federation have put the Juntos Avanzamos designation on a national stage. A signal to Hispanic consumers that a credit union has their best interests in mind, the designation is another way to communicate credit union’s passion for and willingness to serve the Hispanic community.
Over Coopera’s 10 year history, many strategic partners have helped raise awareness of the struggles faced by Hispanic consumers, but also the great opportunity they represent. These organizations have helped hundreds of credit unions realize the influence and the value of what remains America’s largest, fast-growing, young and financially underserved minority group.
It’s a message that’s expanding far beyond the credit union space. Executives and business leaders in insurance, health care, higher education and many others are answering the call to adapt to the unique needs of a multi-faceted Hispanic consumer segment.
In just under a decade, the Hispanic community grew from 45 million to more than 57 million.
10 million in 10 years. That’s explosive growth. That’s amazing opportunity.
Many of that 57 million are still seeking the American dream. And, credit unions are helping them achieve that, one member at a time. In fact, 25 percent of Hispanics in the U.S. are now credit union members.
Coopera’s team of Hispanic market experts is also beginning to work with businesses and organizations beyond financial services. Its leaders, which include De Dios, Client Relations Director Alba Perez, Client Support Specialist Lizeth Aquino and Project Assistant Kenia Calderon, are applying their knowledge of emerging markets to engagement with other industries, as well.
As more businesses, organizations and community leaders are inspired by the credit union movement’s success, Coopera will be there, ready to partner for the success of their organizations and the greater Hispanic community.Leave a comment
David Suarez, bilingual community development manager at Iowa’s Community 1st Credit Union, says insists the key to building connections with Hispanic members is trust. “We have to gain that trust in the community,” he said. “We conduct outreach with community leaders, schools – even soccer teams – so we can show them we are offering not only services, but education. Typically, they are very interested to learn, but it’s important to know they may not have the basic knowledge of financial concepts. You have to get close to them to understand their particular point of view and their particular issue. Only then can you begin to develop the clear, simple messages you need to start them down the path to financial success in the U.S.”
Among the connections Suarez and the Community 1st leadership has built is a partnership with the Mexican Consulate of Omaha, Guadalupe Sanchez Salazar. Shortly after building a relationship with Sanchez Salazar, the credit union signed an agreement to collaborate for the benefit of Mexican nationals that live in Iowa. As part of that agreement, any Community 1st member with a matricula consular card and Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) has access to nearly all of the credit union’s products and services, including mortgages. This will be hugely important to the credit union as it looks to serve more Mexican immigrants, which today make up 75 percent of Iowa’s immigrant population. Suarez pointed out the credit union is also working with the IRS to help more of its community members obtain ITINs. “We’re excited to help the community understand that with this number comes great advantages, such as checking accounts, loans and potentially even a mortgage.”
In addition, the credit union is working with Iowa State University’s Extension and Outreach agency, which connects Iowans with the university’s research and resources. The agency is helping the credit union understand the education levels of the Hispanic community members local to the 15 communities PFCU serves through 17 locations in Iowa and northern Missouri.
CU Achieves Juntos Avanzamos Designation
In 2016, the credit union was given the Juntos Avanzamos designation, which translates to “Together, we advance. Awarded by the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions and Coopera, the designation is a national recognition of the work and commitment made to offer financial services to the Hispanic community. The designation also makes a public proclamation to the Hispanic community that the Juntos Avanzamos credit union welcomes the Hispanic community.
On the strategic roadmap for Community 1st is continuous employee training and cross-department education so every staff member is aware they can accept alternative forms of identification to serve more community members. In addition, the credit union will conduct more community outreach, pursue a community development financial institution (CDFI) designation and institute a series of financial education programs in the coming year.
To read how Community 1st has helped one very appreciative member achieve his American dream, download “Hispanic Member Growth Not Just for ‘Gateway States’ Anymore.”Leave a comment
We’re fresh off another exhilarating CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference. It was a terrific conference with what I believe was record attendance! While in the nation’s capital for the event, we were lucky enough to chat with several credit union leaders about the value and importance of serving the Hispanic financial consumer.
As part of our whirlwind awareness tour, I got the chance to talk with CU Broadcast host Mike Lawson. We discussed quite a few things, including growth of the Hispanic population in places people may not expect. Credit unions in the Midwest, for example, are finding an explosion of the multi-faceted Hispanic communities in their areas to be a clear call to action.
Take a listen to the conversation at CUBroadcast.com and download our white paper, “Hispanic Growth Strategies Not Just for ‘Gateway States’ Anymore.” Then, get in touch. I’d love to hear your impressions, as well as where your credit union is on its own path to better serving this influential and growing group of community members.
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Sometimes the best way to lead a successful strategy is to have survived an unsuccessful one. That is precisely the spirit with which Anne Hagen is approaching her credit union’s second go at Hispanic membership growth. The vice president of marketing for Iowa’s Community 1st Credit Union, Hagen believes one of the biggest lessons learned from the cooperative’s first attempt was that a single champion of the program is not enough.
“We identified how important it would be to serve the Hispanic community back in 2007,” said Hagen. “When we lost the key person leading that effort, however, the program fizzled out. After continuing to evaluate the segment and truly understanding how underserved it is, we knew we had to try again.”
President and CEO Greg Hanshaw explained that the calling to do more is rooted in the credit union’s 80-year history. “Our goal as an organization has always been to personify the credit union philosophy of people helping people. Although that can sound cliché, it’s the real deal around here. And it’s a huge part of why we felt years ago it was critically important to reach the Hispanic market.”
CU Recognizes Need for Grassroots Leadership
The credit union recognized a Hispanic member growth plan would need to be a cooperative-wide initiative supported by everyone from frontline staff to the C-suite. Yet, they also understood the importance of hiring an empathetic community member. This individual would help credit union staff better identify and overcome obstacles to engaging the Hispanic community. David Suarez joined the credit union as Bilingual Community Development Manager in June 2015. Suarez then helped recruit Edith Cabrera, the credit union’s first Hispanic board member.
“When David came to the credit union, he did not sit back,” said Hagen. “He immediately identified those areas where we weren’t doing enough for the community and started building initiatives from scratch. He spearheaded partnership with Coopera to help us learn best practices and with local Hispanic organizations to get us connected to the community in a grassroots way.”
According to Hagen, Suarez has a knack for explaining to community members how a credit union can help. “His message really resonates with the Hispanic people in the communities we serve.” The result has been close relationships with many credit union members, many of whom attribute their financial successes to his guidance.
That knack for explaining extends to Suarez’s influence inside the credit union. “One thing I’ve learned from David is a lot of the folks in Iowa have come from cultures and backgrounds where they didn’t trust the financial system that was built to provide those types of services,” said Hanshaw. “So we have an opportunity to show what a not-for-profit cooperative is and how it is uniquely built to provide services to people who may not meet the right criteria at a traditional financial institution.”
To read more about Community 1st all-in approach to Hispanic membership growth, download “Hispanic Member Growth Not Just for ‘Gateway States’ Anymore.”Leave a comment
If nothing else, the tumultuous 2016 election year revealed the extent to which American working families are struggling. More than 40 percent of American jobs today pay less than $15 an hour, and most of these low-wage jobs lack important benefits such as paid leave, health insurance or retirement. Low-income wage earners are no longer a small demographic relegated to select neighborhoods and geographies – they constitute a significant demographic block.
America is a country of immigrants. In the US, there are currently 46 million immigrants, representing 13% of the US population, or 1 out of 8 residents. Far from representing an economic burden, immigrants contribute greatly to our local economies by paying taxes, establishing small businesses, and creating jobs.
Numerous economists argue for the long-term economic need for robust immigration. Citing an aging native-born workforce, contributions to the tax base and job creation from immigrant entrepreneurs and businesses, progressive immigration policy is actually an important way to grow the economy. Immigrant workers make a significant contribution to government revenue. Undocumented immigrants collectively pay an estimated $11.64 billion dollars each year in state and local taxes. In Iowa alone, undocumented immigrants contributed $37.4 million in state and local taxes each year, according to the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy.
Immigrants start small businesses and create jobs. Though they made up over 13 percent of the total U.S. population in 2014, immigrants represented almost 21 percent of our country’s entrepreneurs. In fact, according to the Kauffman Foundation, immigrants were almost twice as likely as the native-born population to start new businesses in 2015. These businesses created millions of jobs. In 2016, 40 percent of Fortune 500 firms had at least one immigrant founder or a founder who was the child of immigrants.
Serving immigrants is part of the history of the credit union movement, and a key opportunity for credit union growth. Immigrant members of community development credit unions (CDCUs) report strong loyalty to their credit unions, in many cases indicating the credit union as the only place they choose to do their banking. According to a joint CUNA-Coopera study, credit unions that have strategically invested in outreach to the Hispanic community, for instance, report faster loan growth and accelerated membership.
For this reason, the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions (the Federation), Coopera and the Network of Latino Credit Unions and Professionals (NLCUP) are working together with key industry partners to grow and expand the Juntos Avanzamos Initiative. Juntos Avanzamos – Together We Advance – is a designation for credit unions committed to serving and empowering both U.S. born and immigrant Hispanic consumers. Immigrants are a large and vibrant part of our communities and a key audience in the low- and moderate-income communities that Community Development Credit Unions (CDCUs) serve.
Today there are 65 Juntos Avanzamos designated credit unions around the country meeting the tremendous demand in the immigrant market for safe and responsible loans and financial services. These institutions have demonstrated that serving immigrants is both a sustainable business strategy and vital to fulfilling our collective goal of helping people of modest means achieve financial independence. Designations are made based upon an application with a rigorous scoring system that grades credit union performance that considers membership served, products and services targeting Latino immigrants, bilingual and bi-cultural operations and staffing, bi-cultural leadership on the board and management team, and bilingual marketing, messaging and signage.
The Federation is now working with network partners to become centers of information (“Know Your Rights”) and referrals for free legal and social service providers. Juntos Avanzamos is transforming credit unions from institutions that serve a community into community centers able to organize, communicate and support immigrant wage-earners, families, young people and seniors.
At this time, it is critical that immigrants know their credit unions are here for them. Once a member, always a member!
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Credit Union ‘Jump Starts’ Staff Passion for Hispanic Member Service with Immersion Exercises, Training
Buy-in from management was a critical first step to developing the Prime Financial Credit Union’s (PFCU) Hispanic member growth plan. And it did not come easily. After all, the credit union was still recovering from a conservatorship, and prudent board members wanted to be sure the plan would be strategic and well-executed.
“We saw this large population that really needed our products and services, and we wanted to do it right. Just throwing up a sign that said, “We speak Spanish,’ was not going to cut it,” said Colleen Jakubowski, PFCU’s chief operating officer.
To lay the groundwork for their strategic roadmap, the credit union began working with Coopera on a series of surveys to reveal the true needs of the Hispanic community in Milwaukee. Coopera also spoke with PFCU’s staff to uncover sentiments employees may not want to share with the credit union’s leadership.
“Coopera’s staff took us through an immersion exercise where we went to a local market for lunch,” said Jakubowski. “We were challenged to speak Spanish the entire time and to get to know people in the community. It was something of a cultural awakening for us. That activity really jump-started the passion. We learned a lot about a culture we didn’t know, and came away understanding that’s exactly what we can do for our members.”
PFCU Mobilizes Team of Volunteers
Training bilingual employees to not only speak the right words but also have the cultural awareness to adequately explain financial products was critically important, as well. In January 2016, PFCU mobilized a team of 13 volunteers who are now leading the execution of the credit union’s Hispanic growth plan. Divided into subgroups, such as marketing, Spanish language and compliance, the team is playing an instrumental role in the development and launch of PFCU’s new branch location.
PFCU has also developed a business curriculum for a class of Spanish speaking employees who want to expand their knowledge of the U.S. financial system vocabulary. According to PFCU Director of Organizational Development Amy Goratowski, these individuals are highly engaged and passionate about continually improving their skills.
Among the challenges Jakubowski and Goratowski cite is difficulty containing staff excitement about the prospect of gaining new members from the Hispanic community. “We can’t do it all,” said Goratowski. “We still have to be frugal, but the great thing about this community is word of mouth. Once they become aware of all we have to offer, it will be huge.”
To read more about PFCU’s Hispanic membership growth strategy, download “Hispanic Member Growth Not Just for ‘Gateway States’ Anymore.”Leave a comment
Financial inclusivity as a growth strategy is quickly gaining traction in the community banking space. In fact, the trend recently garnered the attention of the hugely popular, national financial advice site Nerd Wallet.
Writer Juan Castillo reported:
Hispanics in the U.S. have long been known as “the sleeping giant” for their potential as a substantial and still-growing voting bloc. Now, some in the financial services industry are getting serious about targeting Hispanics — and Hispanic millennials in particular — as a prime source for market growth.
As the concept of reaching out to fast-growing markets like the Hispanic segment earns wider interest, it will be important for financial institutions to adhere to the fundamentals before going “all-in.” This will prevent staff from viewing the strategy as a fad and help them to see it as a part of the financial institution’s long-term plan.
There are essential first steps that must be taken on the front-end of any financial inclusion strategy, particularly when the credit union or community bank is targeting a segment of people new to mainstream banking.
Step One: Build the Right Organizational Mentality
Financial institution leaders must communicate the philosophical and business imperatives of serving a new market to build buy-in at all levels of the organization from frontline staff and management to board members and C-suite executives.
Step Two: Adapt to the Market
Do not expect the people you want to serve to adapt to you. Develop a comprehensive plan for how you will improve processes and products, as well as train employees and prepare your branches.
Step Three: Create a Strategic Plan
Define your opportunities and challenges with an eye to your specific local communities. What does the market look like in your city? Are there nuances across age, geography, acculturation factors? Create a roadmap encompassing groundwork, personnel training, product adaptation/development, processes and marketing. Set ongoing measurements and continue to nurture that all-important staff buy-in with frequent updates on milestones and wins.Leave a comment
Something was changing in the community. The staff of Milwaukee’s Prime Financial Credit Union (PFCU) could feel it. More visitors to the 90-year-old cooperative were asking for Spanish translators and fewer came equipped with the basics of U.S. financial system awareness.
“It got to the point where it was a topic of conversation at every meeting,” said Colleen Jakubowski, PFCU’s chief operating officer. “We knew there was a Hispanic community here. But we didn’t know how large it was, nor how underserved many of the members of that community were.”
Her colleague, PFCU Director of Organizational Development Amy Goratowski, agreed: “Over the years, we had noticed less volume in our branches. It became clear we needed to devote a location to the Hispanic community – somewhere they would feel immediately welcome and comfortable. We’re excited to be breaking ground on that branch as we speak.”
Talk with Jakubowski and Goratowski and you can feel their excitement about the future of Hispanic membership growth at PFCU. The pair have a self-described justice mentality that has intrinsically motivated them to pursue improvements in the way the cooperative serves this influential and growing segment of Milwaukee – a city that saw its Hispanic numbers rise nearly 175 percent from 1990 to 2014. “We really get excited by the prospect of making things better for people,” said Jakubowski. “It’s what we like to do.”
Rich Experience Adapting Products and Services
Because the credit union serves a high percentage (70 percent) of members who reside in low-income neighborhoods, there is rich experience adapting products, training employees and making community connections already within PFCU. Jakubowski and Goratowski believe these competencies are helping them achieve early success in their Hispanic membership growth plan. “By serving segments that need special assistance or special products, we are actually getting back to our roots,” said Jakubowski. “Bigger financial institutions are about making money. That’s not us. We’re about reaching those people that need us most.”
Getting back to the credit union’s roots was an objective that came after a lot of soul searching. The only Wisconsin credit union to survive conservatorship, PFCU emerged ready to recommit to the right people. “We took a hard look at everything we were doing,” said Jakubowski, who noted the credit union is fully staffed at 55 with four active branches and a strong net worth. “What we discovered is we were doing a better job chasing people who maybe didn’t need us rather than serving those who did. These were the people we saw every day.”
Among the discoveries made during what Jakubowski calls the “enlightening period” was that many of the credit union’s most loyal members were not taking advantage of beneficial products, such as low-rate credit cards or fee-free checking accounts. As a result, leadership began to seek out grants and designations that could help them execute on their reignited mission to help community members become and stay financially healthy. They achieved a low-income designation from the NCUA, which has allowed them freedom to pursue new objectives, such as those inside the Hispanic membership growth plan.
Products Designed to Build Credit Histories
Many of the products and services already on the PFCU roadmap are ideal for the local Hispanic community, Coopera research has found. Payday loans, for example, are providing a much-need service as new regulatory requirements are expected to shutter some payday lending businesses. A responsible lender, the credit union will only allow one loan at a time, and each loan will be capped at $500. Because the credit union reports on these loans to the credit bureaus, members who take advantage of the product will be building credit histories, an important step to establishing financial wellness.
PFCU’s credit rebuilder account, too, is a great match for many unbanked people in Milwaukee. Members can open the account immediately with zero deposit down, and there is no minimum balance. A portion of the funds goes to pay off debts, which helps members increase their credit scores. The credit union also offers certificates for as low as $250 and other loans for as low as $500.
To learn more about the strategic evolution of PFCU’s Hispanic membership growth strategy, download “Hispanic Member Growth Not Just for ‘Gateway States’ Anymore.”Leave a comment
More credit union people than ever before are talking about Juntos Avanzamos, the national designation awarded to U.S. credit unions making a strategic effort to serve the Hispanic community. The designation was initially developed by the Cornerstone Credit Union League in the states of Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma and has now been rolled out nationally by the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions (Federation).
A big reason for all the chatter is the program’s explosive growth. Just 15 months after the program went national, 32 more credit unions in 15 states have earned the designation. By the end of 2017, the program is expected to reach 100 credit unions in 20 states.
Coopera, along with many national league partners and the Federation, recently celebrated this growth at the Consulate General of Mexico in Dallas, Texas. It was a spirited evening organized by the Federation and the Consulate during which passionate credit union folks all came together to recognize the connections being built between credit unions and the youngest and fastest-growing consumer segment in the U.S.
The event was part of CUNA’s Community Credit Union Conference and the Federation’s Annual Conference, at which I was also honored to sit on a panel with Francisco de la Torre Galindo, General Consul, Mexico General Consulate. Before an audience of credit unions from across the country (many of which were CDFI certified or low-income designated), we talked about the growing network of Juntos Avanzamos credit unions. Among the specifics we discussed were…
How credit unions can partner with the Mexican Consulate to further provide accessible financial services to Mexican nationals.
The various resources offered by the Mexican Consulate to Mexican nationals.
The demographics of the market and how Hispanics continue to be one of the largest, fastest-growing, youngest and most financially untapped markets in the U.S.
Overcoming common concerns related to opening accounts for foreign nationals and offering loans to individuals with individual taxpayer identification numbers (ITINs).
How to develop a strategy to serve the Hispanic community for those that are looking to expand into this market. Success stories of Juntos Avanzamos-designated credit unions.
We are committed to keeping the Juntos Avanzamos ball rolling. We will continue the conversation at a special roundtable at CUNA’s GAC Conference on February 28, 2017 (more details soon). Please also remember the Network of Latino Credit Unions and Professionals (NLCUP) is hosting its annual network reception at the National Press Club from noon to 2:00 p.m. that same day. Juntos Avanzamos will have a big spotlight shone at it at our industry’s most important conference!
Visit the Federation’s website for more information about the Juntos Avanzamos designation.Leave a comment
Another Hispanic Heritage Month (HHM) is in the books, and we couldn’t be more proud of the reaction our colleagues and friends had to our multi-company celebration.
To inspire more of the people we work alongside each day to learn about and engage with the vibrant Hispanic culture in the U.S., Coopera, along with our Affiliates Management Company (AMC) sister companies, invited associates to participate.
People of all ages and cultures took advantage of Coopera’s artifacts showcase, and of course, an on-site food truck. It was an absolute blast, not to mention a great honor to play even a small role in exposing more individuals to the vivacious, live-life-to-the-fullest outlook of Hispanic people.
Tacos Jalisco came on site to allow AMC employees a chance to try authentic foods from Latin America.
During the celebration, Coopera’s Kenia Calderon shared, among other items, a cross depicting Father Romero, a hero of the Salvadorian people who spoke out against poverty and social injustice.
For my part, I displayed a gift given to me by the mother of my goddaughter in Havana, Cuba.
It was so important to have the support of our senior leadership, as well as the logistical help and excitement of our human resources team. A big thanks goes out to everyone who was so instrumental in organizing our HHM activities!
Undoubtedly, many of you had the opportunity to host or participate in your own HHM efforts, and we would love to hear about them. Or maybe you have an idea for how you will celebrate during HHM next year (scheduled for Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, 2017)! Either way, drop us a note in the comments section.
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