Credit Unions Set Sights on Payment Competitors to Attract Underserved Hispanics

Posted by on November 17, 2014

We get asked often why a firm focused on Hispanic outreach is based in Iowa, a state many consider less-than-diverse. In fact, the Hispanic population in our home state more than doubled from 2000 to
2013 and is expected to account for more than 12 percent of Iowa’s population by 2040.

The change to our state’s consumer make-up has not escaped the attention of Iowa’s credit unions. Leaders of the state’s movement are right now exploring ways to invest in service to Hispanics, the largest, fastest-growing, youngest and most underserved group in the U.S.

To help, Coopera and the Iowa Credit Union Foundation (ICUF) recently facilitated a roundtable for Iowa credit unions. In the 4-hour session, we joined four credit unions already doing an excellent job with service to underserved consumers, many of whom are Hispanic.

To my right are Jocelyn Peña, Greater Iowa CU; Nicole Suarez, Village CU; Traci Stiles, Des Moines Metro CU; Jessica Martens, Community 1st CU

Among the different ways we talked about adapting credit union products and services to this special market, the concept of unique payment products stood out. Because underserved consumers continue to use high-cost alternatives to pay bills, make rent payments and secure short-term loans, payment products present a sizable opportunity for credit unions looking to reach this market.

Here are just a few of the alternative payment providers already popular with the underbanked, Hispanics included:

PayNearMe: This provider issues plastic cards and PaySlips that can be printed or displayed on a mobile device.

Walmart: The retail giant continues to diversify its financial service products, which include everything from credit cards to money transfers. Most recently, it began marketing a low-cost checking account.

LendUp: Credit-building loans starting as low as $250 available with instant approval online. (Of course, it comes with a hefty price tag at 29% APR).

WipIt: Allows Boost and Sprint mobile phone users to make payments with cash directly from their phone.

OnDeck: Provides small business loans online, and underwriting is based on performance rather than individual credit.

Boom: A prepaid card with mobile banking features.

For each of the above, our expert panelists brainstormed alongside Iowa credit union leaders how cooperatives could compete and why they should. It was an excellent discussion, and one I’d be happy to share in more detail one-on-one. Send me an email with your thoughts or questions and we can talk through your credit union’s payments strategy and how it may be configured to appeal to the underserved Hispanics in your community.

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Walmart is After Your Untapped Market, Hispanics

Posted by on October 9, 2014

I don’t think many of us were surprised to hear of Walmart’s unveiling of a new checking account with an $8.95 monthly fee and no overdraft or returned check fees. After all, the writing has been on the wall for some time, as we’ve watched the mega retailer dip its toes into financial waters.

What was less expected, however, was Walmart’s rollout of health insurance services this month.

So, who is Walmart targeting with these new products? We believe the target is a specific sector of its existing shoppers – the unbanked/underbanked and the uninsured/underinsured markets, and in particular the Hispanic market.

Unbanked individuals do not have a traditional financial institution account, providing a potentially large gap for Walmart to fill. As for the underbanked, these consumers may have a traditional savings or checking account; however they largely rely on non-traditional financial service providers, such as check-cashers and money transfer services, for many of their financial transactions.

Did you know that 1 in 12 U.S. households is unbanked and 1 in 5 U.S. households is underbanked? That’s a total of 34 million households in the U.S., according to the FDIC’s 2011 National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households.

The health insurance market also represents a sizable opportunity for Walmart, as the U.S. uninsured rate is now at the lowest level recorded since 2008. For the Hispanic market, that means nearly 1 in 3 people are uninsured.

Why Walmart Sees Potential in These Markets

There is a misconception about the unbanked and underbanked market all being low-income, high risk and not profitable clientele. Walmart knows better. The U.S. unbanked and underbanked market does include low-income households, yet it also includes immigrants, young people, minority groups and single family households with financial needs.

These individuals spend much of their paychecks on pricey alternative financial services, to now include Walmart’s checking account and prepaid cards. (If you’re thinking $8.95/mo sounds pretty affordable amid news of rising fees, keep in mind the average monthly service fee for a non-interest checking account fell 5 percent to $5.26 over the past 12 months.)

A large percentage of U.S. unbanked and underbanked households are made up of Hispanics. Much of this stems from cultural preferences vs. a lack of financial stability. Hispanics are also the largest, fastest-growing, youngest and most underserved group in the U.S. with more than a trillion in purchasing power – a prime untapped market for credit unions.

One thing is for sure, profit-hungry Walmart would not introduce these products if it did not foresee strong potential. It’s clear their executives have identified the above consumer segments, many of which include Hispanic consumers, as a hot, untapped market. Credit unions must not acquiesce – these markets are tailor-made for the “people helping people” philosophy and are primed for generating tremendous revenue and membership growth.

As Scott Butterfield from Your Credit Union Partner notes in Credit Unions and The Ultimate Category Killer, “Overlook the Hispanic community at your own risk.”

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Five Keys to a Great Remittance Program

Posted by on September 23, 2014

Remittance stand in the Dominican Republic, captured by Coopera's Anna Pena on a World Council of Credit Unions-sponsored trip to the region.

With intense growth of the Hispanic market across the country, more U.S. credit unions are looking to add money transfer programs, known as remittances, for Hispanic immigrants with family in Latin America.

And now may be an ideal time to play in the market.

U.S. remittances to developing countries reached $404 billion in 2013 and are predicted to grow to $516 billion by 2016, according to the World Bank. At the same time, an increasing number of providers have dropped their remittance programs, leaving a competitive opening for credit unions.

The shuttering of many long-time remittance providers is due to an unprecedented compliance burden. This has also led to the development of an industry that is, as this PaymentsSource article puts it, “ripe for startups.” There are now even international start-ups looking at the U.S. with aspirations of market dominance.

As the remittance industry shape-shifts to meet increased scrutiny from regulators, some credit unions are looking to find new partners who can help them compete in this important space.

Credit unions should view remittances services as a value-added tool designed to increase the depth of the membership experience. Coopera’s research (performed in conjunction with the World Council of Credit Unions) found that remittance services, when combined with an intentional Hispanic growth strategy, can earn a credit union much higher volumes as compared to those credit unions without a strategic approach.

If your credit union is looking to develop or make changes to its remittance offering, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Understand the geographies you must serve – Not all remittance providers serve the same locales. Before creating a partnership, understand your Hispanic members’ countries of origin and the available locations within a typical recipient’s country.

Survey the competition – Examine your local market to understand how you can provide the most competitive offering. What other local organizations are providing remittance services? What are they charging? What are their hours of operation, etc.?

Investigate the alternatives – When issued to a Hispanic cardholder in the U.S. alongside a secondary card for a family member in Latin America, a reloadable prepaid card like the Coopera Card is an affordable and accessible option for sending money outside the country. What’s more, reloadable prepaid cards do not require compliance with the CFPB’s remittance transfer disclosure requirements.

Know your compliance burden – While the cost of compliance will mostly fall on the shoulders of third-party service providers, credit unions will be held ultimately responsible for providing the appropriate disclosures.

Develop a member experience strategy – How will the credit union transition first-time remittance users to more products? Incentives like offering the fourth or fifth remittance free can keep remitters coming back to your shop for more remittances, but how will you engage them with other products and servicesfor the long-term?

Especially given recent industry upheaval, remittances are a much-needed service for Hispanic immigrants with family members residing in Latin America. In fact, Coopera has made remittances a best-practice solution for credit unions looking to invest in the largest, fastest-growing, youngest and most underserved segment of the U.S. population. While there are certainly barriers to entry, keeping the above pointers in mind can help you break through those obstacles to deliver a needed solution to your Hispanic members and prospective members.

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Its Not About the Bottom Line, Its About the Needs of the Member

Posted by on June 10, 2014

The following case study is an excerpt from Coopera’s Iowa Hispanic Opportunity Report for the Iowa Credit Union League (ICUL). For more information, contact the ICUL at www.iowacreditunions.com.

Veridian Credit Union, headquartered in Waterloo, Ia., has a long history of offering innovative and affordable financial services to members. One way Veridian differentiates its business from other financial service providers in the area is by offering services specifically designed to improve the socio-economic well-being of those in greatest need — including the local Hispanic community. For Veridian it’s not about the business’s bottom line; it’s about best serving members’ financial needs.

“Many years ago, Veridian recognized a need to offer Latinos in our communities more affordable products and services compared to the expensive alternatives they were using,” said Angela Weekley, Veridian community inclusion manager. “We also understood that our credit union’s value to members was to help them build a successful financial future, rather than offering one-off solutions.”

To aid their efforts, Veridian began working with Coopera to better understand the nuances of the Hispanic culture, to learn more about what this market needed out of a financial services provider and to build a relationship with the Hispanic communities in its operations areas. Coopera also gave Veridian guidance in hiring bilingual staff, as well as marketing and tailoring its product and services mix to this very important demographic.

According to Shelly McGill, Veridian’s Central Iowa regional manager, offering the right products and services was very important to meeting Latino members’ unique financial needs. One of the actions Veridian took was to give members a viable alternative to expensive payday-loan centers and check-cashing services. To do this, Veridian introduced an affordable alternative to traditional payday lending outlets in early 2007. “The Payday Lending Alternative (PAL) loan features a savings component to help break the cycle of dependency on payday loans,” said McGill. “This program was a success almost immediately. Just two years after it was introduced, Veridian had already awarded more than 4,700 PAL loans to both Latino and non-Latino members.”

Veridian also started offering the Coopera Card, a prepaid card tailor-made for the Hispanic market. Quinceañera loans, checking and savings accounts, CDs (Certificates of Deposit) and credit card accounts, as well as home equity loans, round out the services of which Veridian’s Hispanic members take advantage.

In addition to those products, Veridian made an effort to enhance its member services. They became an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) acceptance agent to help community members apply for their ITIN number through the IRS, and also began to offer interest-bearing safe savings accounts and loans to Hispanic members without traditional forms of identification and documentation. Veridian’s ITIN loan offerings include credit builder loans, auto loans and consumer loans such as the PAL, share secured co-signer loans. The company also focused on offering financial education opportunities, like a credit builder loan program, to help immigrant families better acclimate to the U.S. financial system. Prior to hiring additional Spanish-speaking staff, the credit union incorporated an AT&T Language Line better-equip English-speaking staff to assist Spanish-speaking members.

To support these products and services, Veridian also began to enhance its internal infrastructure for Hispanic outreach. “We make a point to hire bilingual staff in our branches when the opportunity makes sense, even adding more staff in those locations with greater non-English speaking populations,” said Weekley, who noted the credit union currently employs 23 Spanish-speaking staff in its 26 branch locations. “We implemented a diversity training program for all employees to make sure everyone is on board with the company’s goals and efforts.”

Weekley added that Veridian started their outreach to the Hispanic community by forming an advisory council made up of staff and local community members. It helped the credit union better understand the Hispanic community’s needs and make recommendations on how Veridian could best meet those needs.

Veridian continues to focus its external marketing efforts on better targeting Latinos. “We create bilingual brochures and collateral for our products and services,” said Weekley. “And, we advertise in Spanish newspapers and on local radio stations. We make sure to participate in public relations opportunities, like providing information or quotes for articles in newspapers and magazines, to build awareness about Veridian and its outreach efforts.”

“We asked the council to review our initiatives to make sure they make sense for our Latino members,” said Weekley. “Advisory Council members reviewed materials to make sure our translations accurately reflect the messages we wanted to communicate.”

In addition to its marketing initiatives, Veridian’s external outreach efforts include becoming an active participant in the local communities the credit union serves. Every year, staff participate in local Latino Heritage Festival and Cinco de Mayo celebrations, as well as partner with organizations like J&E Entertainment in Iowa City, Ia., to host an annual Sunset Salsa event. And, each July, Veridian is the presenting sponsor for Festival Latino de Cedar Rapids in Cedar Rapids, Ia.

The cooperative is also active in community organizations. For example, McGill serves on the Latino Forum of the Urban Core, a Des Moines based group of members and supporters of the Latino community. “We really care about the people in our communities,” added Weekley, “and we are proud that our actions and intentions are authentic. The best way to prove this to our members is by truly becoming a part of their lives.”

All of these efforts have been successful thanks to the credit union’s hard work and dedication to this mission of improving its members’ lives. To continue its success, McGill noted that Veridian keeps up-to-date on the latest rules and regulations in the financial industry, makes sure the cooperative is offering products and services that not only make sense for members but that also comply with the law .

“Because we are a cooperative, rather than a for-profit business,” said McGill, “we can focus on doing what’s right for our members. Our results prove this is the right approach. In 2012, we experienced a 10-percent growth in our Latino membership.” Currently, 6,398 of the credit union’s 174,000 members are Latino.

Weekley concluded, “We truly listen to the voice of the people — not just guess which products and services Hispanic members need. We ask them for input and then deliver what they want. We are proud of what we’ve accomplished so far and will continue to look for ways to grow our efforts and opportunities in the future.”

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Cooperative-wide Involvement Important to Growth Efforts

Posted by on May 27, 2014

The following case study is an excerpt from Coopera’s Iowa Hispanic Opportunity Report for the Iowa Credit Union League (ICUL). For more information, contact the ICUL at www.iowacreditunions.com.

When Greater Iowa Credit Union, headquartered in Ames, Ia., acquired two branch locations with large Hispanic membership populations, the senior leadership team knew the credit union had to step up its efforts to serve this important member segment. Focused on positively impacting its membership base, Greater Iowa implemented a Hispanic initiative, which started as a very marketing-centric approach and grew it to include full credit union involvement.

The first step Greater Iowa took was to apply for the Credit Union Remittance Outreach Program (CUROP) grant from World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), Coopera and the Iowa Credit Union League (ICUL). At the time, Greater Iowa did not have a remittance program in place and knew it needed help to implement a successful one if it was to provide an affordable and convenient alternative for Hispanic members sending money to loved ones in Mexico. “Greater Iowa was one of only three Iowa credit unions accepted into the program that year,” said Michael Adams, Greater Iowa’s vice president of marketing and public relations. “It became the jumping off point for the credit union’s entire Hispanic-focused effort.”

Adams became the point person for Greater Iowa’s external efforts, immersing himself in the initiative and leading the charge for the credit union’s Hispanic marketing, outreach and community-involvement programs. The company partnered with Coopera to guide them on next steps. “At Coopera’s recommendation, we refreshed our marketing collateral to be more focused on the Hispanic community’s financial needs, which included of course, Spanish translation,” said Adams.

He continued, “We also developed a portal site that our Spanish-speaking members can use any time to gain immediate access to our bilingual materials. And, we started advertising on the regional Spanish-language TV channel, on two Spanish-language radio stations and in two Spanish-speaking newspapers. In addition, we put together a testimonial TV commercial featuring one of our Hispanic members from the Denison branch.”

With Coopera’s guidance, Greater Iowa also gained insight into the cultural and lifestyle nuances of its Hispanic members. This knowledge enabled the credit union to further fine-tune its efforts. “We found with the Hispanic community that word-of-mouth referrals can really make or break a credit union’s success in a local market,” added Adams. “To increase opportunities to reach more members in the communities we serve, we began to take a more active approach toward earning positive word of mouth.”

According to Adams, this included participating in Iowa’s annual Latino Heritage Festival; speaking at industry events, such as the 2012 Latino Credit Union Conference in San Diego, Calif.; participating in editorial opportunities with industry media and starting an annual scholarship program for first- and second-generation Hispanic high school students.

Additionally, the credit union began to host its own member appreciation events throughout the year. For example, Greater Iowa’s East Des Moines location hosts an annual Fiesta de Navidad event during the Christmas season, and its Denison branch puts on an annual Cinco de Mayo event in May. “The first year we hosted our Fiesta de Navidad party, we had 300 people show up,” boasted Adams. “And, we’ve increased attendee turnout at the event every year since. We like doing these types of events because it gives us the opportunity to show our Hispanic members how much we appreciate their loyalty and trust in us.”

On the internal front, Greater Iowa started the Employee Implementation Team (EIT) to help the credit union expand the Hispanic initiative from a marketing campaign to a company-wide program. According to Adams, the EIT has played a very important part in expanding Greater Iowa’s Hispanic efforts. This includes advocating necessary changes to the board, senior management and key staff. For example, at the recommendation of the EIT, Greater Iowa’s HR department became very instrumental in growing the credit union’s Hispanic opportunities. “They worked with our current staff to better understand how to serve Hispanic members,” said Adams, “as well as hired bilingual staff to build up our talent base. Today, 10 of our 85 employees are bilingual.”

The EIT also initiated a monthly email communication to all employees, updating them on current issues affecting the Hispanic community, as well as on the credit union’s relevant products, services and programs. In addition, the team publishes a regular newsletter that provides in-depth details on the “who, what, when, where and why” of the credit union’s efforts. “These communications are so critical in helping us keep the importance of the Hispanic initiative in front of all employees,” said Adams.

Through EIT encouragement, the credit union’s business and product development teams have become more involved with the initiative. According to Adams, each of these teams has recognized that in order to allow Hispanic immigrants to open a checking or savings account, apply for a loan or take advantage of the credit union’s other financial services, customer identification policies needed to adapt to include the matricula consulate cards.

Going one step further, Greater Iowa also decided to offer a credit builder lending program, for individuals with either a SSN or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), branded the Préstamo Camino al Crédito or Path to Credit Loan— one of the first in Iowa. “This was a very controversial decision for Greater Iowa,” said Adams. “We knew the program might not be profitable right away because of the high cost of service in delivering these small dollar loans, but we saw great potential for its future revenue opportunities. To implement, we had to get full buy-in and support from our board and executive staff, as well as overcome some regulation challenges under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). We also had to lobby the program in the communities we serve to convince Hispanics that we wanted to work with them and support their financial needs.”

Adams said that although the credit builder lending program took two years to implement, it became very popular in a short amount of time. To further help newer Hispanic members become more integrated into the U.S. financial system, Greater Iowa offers Spanish educational seminars on topics like building a credit history and how to use online banking services. The credit union recently rolled out Spanish online banking services, which include a mobile app that’s available in Spanish and allows members to view their balance and transfer funds from one account to the other, amongst other services. “The Hispanic community has been so appreciative of our efforts and personnel,” added Adams. “It’s become symbolic of our company’s approach to the Hispanic initiative.”

According to Adams, the results of these efforts have indicated the success of Greater Iowa’s Hispanic initiative. “We have seen a change in character of our entire membership base,” said Adams. “Of the nearly 29,000 members we serve in 31 Iowa counties, approximately 8 percent claim Hispanic heritage, and we continue to see 3 percent quarter-to-quarter growth.”

Adams concluded: “My advice to any credit union looking to court the Hispanic community is that the credit union needs both internal and external advocates, like its Board, senior leadership, staff, an EIT committee and partners such as Coopera, who understand the credit union’s vision and can continue to move the company’s Hispanic initiatives forward. These advocates are ideal resources for communicating with stakeholders, developing and nurturing relationships in the local communities and encouraging employees to follow best practices for successful implementation.”

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A Solid Foundation is the Key to Success

Posted by on May 13, 2014

The following case study is an excerpt from Coopera’s Iowa Hispanic Opportunity Report for the Iowa Credit Union League (ICUL). For more information, contact the ICUL at www.iowacreditunions.com.

In 2006, Des Moines Metro Credit Union (DMMCU), headquartered in Des Moines, Ia., performed an in-depth analysis to determine whether opening a new branch was the best way to grow their membership base. The credit union had endured several years of negative membership growth and wanted to reverse that trend.  The analysis revealed that DMMCU was not maximizing opportunities to best reach and serve the households around the credit union’s existing locations. Before they could successfully open a new branch, the credit union’s leadership decided it would make sense to improve penetration in their current markets.

“We determined that the local Hispanic community was an ideal demographic target for growth,” said Traci Stiles, DMMCU business development manager. “Our branch is located near the Des Moines Hispanic community’s homes and workplaces. We knew we could gain board and staff support to offer much-needed services that would meet Hispanic members’ financial needs. It made a lot of sense for us to become a more active member in this community.”

Stiles and her team knew they would not be able to take the credit union in this new direction without help. They turned to Warren Morrow at Diverse Innovative Solutions, which later became Coopera, to guide them. “Coopera has been a key resource for us,” said Stiles. “In collaboration with Coopera, we have been able to keep up-to-date on best practices in the financial industry, as well as the Hispanic community, to gain new ideas for better serving our membership.”

The Coopera team has also been able to help DMMCU better understand the differences between Hispanic consumers and other DMMCU members. Armed with this knowledge, the DMMCU leadership, with Coopera’s guidance, has also been able to develop products and services that best match the Hispanic community’s cultural and lifestyle nuances.

One of the first products DMMCU implemented was remittance services through Vigo. Also, DMMCU initiated a credit builder loan program. “Our Credit Builder Loan has been the most successful product we’ve implemented to date,” said Stiles. “We started the program in the fall of 2009, and we’ve had over 65 members who have graduated from the program. The program has given us the opportunity to help members with one-on-one financial education as they build their credit. We’ve had minimal risk by using consistent underwriting guidelines, and the program has created loyal, life-long borrowers for DMMCU.”

In the first quarter of 2012, DMMCU also began offering the Coopera Prepaid Reloadable Visa card, a prepaid card program tailor-made for the Hispanic market. According to Stiles, the Coopera Card has turned out to be a popular product with the credit union’s entire membership. “We have sold more than 165 Coopera Cards since the launch.”

As DMMCU’s Hispanic outreach has evolved, the credit union has enhanced its member referral program to capitalize on the increased referral potential offered by the Hispanic community. Today, any current DMMCU member who refers a new member to the credit union gets entered into a monthly drawing for $100.

Products and services were not the only areas the credit union re-tooled to better focus on growing DMMCU’s Hispanic membership. According to Stiles, DMMCU also had to examine its current policies and procedures to make sure they accommodated growth in the Hispanic market. “We examined and altered our policies to allow Hispanics to use matricula consular cards and ITINs to open accounts,” said Stiles. “We also educated our staff about various forms of compliant identification.”

In addition, Stiles and the DMMCU team re-evaluated their marketing efforts to best target the Hispanic community. Today, the credit union’s efforts include bilingual materials, member testimonials and advertising in the local Hispanic media. For example, DMMCU recently used a testimonial from a female Hispanic member who was able to purchase her first car through the credit builder program. “We make sure to solicit feedback from our bilingual staff on existing and new products and services. Also, we make them aware of our community advertising campaigns to make sure we are doing everything we can to be successful,” said Stiles.

“We also track the language preferences of our members so when we do a bilingual direct mail piece we can identify members who speak Spanish,” added Stiles. “We also use Coopera’s Hispanic Member Analysis and Hispanic Opportunity Navigator to track our progress with our target market on a monthly and quarterly basis. Whenever we consider operational, product, or service changes/enhancements, we have to keep the Hispanic market in mind because they are becoming a larger part of our membership. Coopera has been instrumental to our success in each of these areas — from providing us with best practice examples to hosting quarterly and yearly board updates to helping us with reporting and benchmarking.”

DMMCU has become heavily involved in community outreach efforts, such as the Bank On Central Iowa* initiative. This program brings together financial educators, banks and credit unions to help improve financial education and access to underserved consumers, including Hispanics. “We strive to continually form partnerships with businesses and organizations, like Hispanic Educational Resources, that serve the Hispanic population in our area. We participate each year in the local Latino festival during Hispanic Heritage Month, as well as provide volunteers for other cultural events throughout the year.”

For a credit union of DMMCU’s size, Stiles feels the cooperative has made huge strides in serving the Hispanic community. The biggest indicator of success, according to Stiles, is membership growth. “Prior to our efforts with the Hispanic community, we were experiencing negative membership growth,” said Stiles. “In 2009, we began to see positive membership growth and have had positive growth every year since. Our average member age also continues to decrease. We have built the solid foundation with our board, staff and local community, and as a result, we are really seeing our hard work pay off.

The results are not always quantitative, said Stiles. “Our Hispanic members have told us how much they appreciate the friendly, individual attention our bilingual employees provide — we’ve built a strong foundation of trust with them,” added Stiles. “We strive to make sure they feel respected and are given affordable alternatives to higher-cost financial services.”

Stiles offered up these final insights: “My advice would be no matter how big or small, if a credit union has buy-in from all levels of the organization — the board, management and staff — it can successfully serve the Hispanic market, or any target demographic. It’s also important to monitor, track and recognize when processes, procedures, products and services need to be evaluated and adjusted. When you lay the proper foundation, you are bound to have success.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished at DMMCU,” concluded Stiles. “It’s positive for our credit union’s growth, and because our members have the opportunity to take advantage of affordable financial services, it’s very rewarding for them, our credit union, and the credit union industry.

For more information about the Bank On Central Iowa initiative, visit the article “Financial Education Helps Out Unbanked” in the Des Moines Register. An online version of the article is available at: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20130702/NEWS/307020041/Financial-education-helps-out-unbanked?Frontpage.

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Growing Demographic Prompts New Outreach Initiatives

Posted by on April 29, 2014

The following case study is an excerpt from Coopera’s Iowa Hispanic Opportunity Report for the Iowa Credit Union League (ICUL). For more information, contact the ICUL at www.iowacreditunions.com.

At the time Ascentra Credit Union, headquartered in Bettendorf, Iowa, first attempted to reach out the Hispanic community, it had five branches, and of those, two were in cities that showed a Hispanic population growth rate higher than national averages. With corporate America already acknowledging the importance of tailoring its products and services to Hispanic consumers, Ascentra made the decision to follow suit.

“Hispanics are a very loyal, extremely young and fast-growing population shaping the future direction of business and commerce in our country,” said Alvaro Macias, Ascentra community development coordinator. “Unfortunately, it’s a population that is largely underserved in the financial services industry. As Ascentra began to realize the influence and impact Hispanics will have in the future, we knew it was not only right to help reach out to this underserved segment but it was a good business decision for our credit union to focus on growing our outreach.”

Ascentra took steps to make sure it’d be successful in its Hispanic outreach efforts. Management initially asked three bilingual employees for ideas on how to reach this segment of the population. Some advertising was purchased and small events that catered to the Hispanic population were sponsored, but there was no formal Hispanic outreach plan or goal.

Then, they hired Coopera, a leading expert in credit union service to Hispanics, to conduct a member analysis of their operations areas, as well as to provide guidance on Ascentra’s initiatives. These initiatives included things like product and services development and marketing campaign implementation. Coopera was also instrumental in training Ascentra’s staff on the credit union industry’s changing laws and regulations impacting service to Hispanic members.

The credit union then created Macias’ position in the company to make sure the credit union was focused on building a solid foundation in the Hispanic community.  According to Macias, Ascentra also added more bilingual staff to the credit union, as well as translated a page on its website into Spanish. Today, 18 out of the credit union’s 123 employees are bilingual. And, the webpage www.ascentra.org/espanol includes the names, pictures and contact information for all bilingual lending officers and call center representatives within the company.

Ascentra formalized its Hispanic Outreach Program initiative, as well as created two advisory councils, one made up of staff members and another with local community members to provide input and insight into the credit union’s and the competitions’ efforts.

“Ascentra’s initial efforts with a formal plan may have started out as more of a business development initiative for the credit union,” said Macias. “But, most recently when the member analysis from Coopera showed that 63 percent of our new member growth in 2011-2012 was from the Hispanic segment, it confirmed in some of our minds that targeting this group was a key credit union-wide growth strategy.”

To better serve Hispanics’ unique financial needs, Ascentra has introduced several products and services tailored for this underserved demographic. These efforts included money wire services to Mexico, ITIN lending and Quinceañera loans. The credit union also launched its suite of “Préstamos Para Mi” or “Loans for Me”, which is a small signature loan product that is marketed as a way to  pay for life events, such as applying for citizenship, traveling to home countries and making large purchases like furniture or electronics.

From a marketing perspective, the credit union also made some changes to its campaigns to better target potential Hispanic members. “We cut out billboard advertising, as its reach and messaging was too broad. We didn’t want to convey to prospective members that our membership was exclusive to Hispanics,” said Macias. “Also, we started listing some of Ascentra’s bilingual loan officers’ names and contact information in our advertisements so new-member prospects could call them directly. Our team started getting calls right away.”

Other marketing efforts consisted of bilingual advertising, collateral and branch signage. Macias explained, “Our advertising efforts included a mix of local Spanish/English newspapers, a college radio station that has Spanish programing several times a week and a TV commercial during a Hispanic show on a local TV station. We also began offering Spanish marketing collateral for Ascentra’s products and services, as well as have signage in our branches to announce to visitors that we accept matricula cards as a form of ID to open accounts or obtain loans.”

A big push in Ascentra’s Hispanic Outreach Program was to get more involved in its local communities. According to Macias, the credit union has become involved in the Mexican consulate’s mobile visits — events to help Mexican nationals living here obtain matricula cards and passports. At these events, Ascentra staff is on hand to talk about attendees’ financial needs, as well as to invite them to stop by the credit union to open accounts, obtain loans or plan for their futures.

Macias said the member response to these efforts has been phenomenal as after every event the last 2 years, people came to open accounts or obtain loans. “Hispanic members love that they can talk with someone in Spanish who understands their needs and can explain how Ascentra can help them,” said Macias. “But, it’s definitely about more than language. Our staff goes above and beyond to make each of our members feel welcome and valued.”

Ascentra is also a supporter of the Greater Quad Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and was recently recognized by the Chamber as Corporation of the Year. Macias serves as a board member on the Greater Quad Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and chairs the events and program committee. As part of his Community Development Coordinator role, Macias also has conducted financial education seminars on budgeting and planning, as well as building credit, in both English and Spanish at a local church and at a Casa Quad Cities event.

The results of these efforts demonstrate that Ascentra is on the right track with its Hispanic Outreach Program. In 2012, for example, the credit union processed 89 ITIN loan applications, resulting in 59 loans. These were all small loans under $2,500 which were generally used for consolidation, credit building, and “to get by.”  Sixteen of those loan recipients became credit card members as well. Macias offered additional proof: “As of last October 2012, 7.7 percent of our membership is calculated to be of Hispanic heritage,” said Macias.

Macias added these final thoughts, “For credit unions interested in adding more Hispanics to their membership base, my advice is to perform solid due diligence to understand the culture and specific financial needs of this important segment. Embrace what you learn and make any necessary changes to your credit union’s culture to accommodate these members. It is so important that you go to them — don’t expect them to come to you. This includes being at events in the Hispanic community, talking with the people there and being genuine in your efforts to show them that you care.”

“Although Hispanic outreach efforts can take a long time to implement and yield measurable results, know it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Macias concluded. “Overtime, the rewards become worth every bit of the effort.”

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Bridging a Cultural Custom with the Credit Union Experience

Posted by on April 15, 2014

For many immigrants, particularly Latinos, using tandas is a way of life.

Also known as cundinas, sans or quinelas, tandas are informal borrowing and lending circles that provide an alternative to a traditional savings account and a loan from a financial institution. Quite simply, tandas allow for a short-term, no-interest loan and savings account among friends and family.

Growing up in California and Iowa, my parents participated in tandas with their friends, co-workers and neighbors. Before they established accounts at financial institutions (and even a few times after), my parents turned to tandas to save and borrow money outside of the financial mainstream.

Tandas typically work in the same fashion — a group of people already acquainted with one another collect money to help each other financially. A leader, whom is acquainted with tandas, gets the group together and is responsible for collecting, holding and distributing the money. The leader usually sets the rules aimed at benefiting the entire group, including the amount of money collected, when the money will be collected and the number of people in the group. Once these parameters are established, the leader randomly chooses the order of whom is going to receive the money. Most often, tandas distribute money through a raffle or make the decision based on the individual(s) believed to need the money most.

Here’s an example of how a traditional tanda could work: The tanda is formed with 10 friends and family. Each member contributes $100 every two weeks to the group leader. At the end of the month, one participant gets the “pot” of $2,000. This process continues until each member has received the pot.

The tanda played a very important role in my family life. Each time that my parents borrowed from the tanda, the money was earmarked for specific expenses, such as furniture for our first house, immigration expenses as we were going through the process of adjusting our status in the U.S. or trips to Mexico to visit family.

I remember taking turns going with either my mother or my father to the tanda group leader’s house when we moved to Iowa. She was a neighbor — someone everyone in the Latino community knew and trusted. The tanda leader was also an entrepreneur. She sold jewelry and home interior products to the community, which my parents also bought from her. My parents would give her their $100 payment in cash, usually after my father got his paycheck cashed from work. The tanda leader would then store the cash in a little cash box in her office desk and would note my parent’s payment in a notebook.

I also witnessed my parents pulling a number from a box, letting them know when it would be their turn to receive the lump sum from the tanda.

When I was a teenager, my parents began to entrust me with delivering the $100 payments. As the oldest child in my family, this was a big responsibility but seemed very simple to do. Throughout my childhood, I did not realize that there was an alternative to saving and borrowing money at a traditional financial institution because I was used to seeing my parents cash their checks, borrow and save completely outside of the financial mainstream.

Tandas were convenient, they involved people that we knew and trusted, and they helped my family out financially when we needed it.

Although very small in nature, tandas are making big headlines. NPR’s Changing Lives of Women series and Code Switch have each covered the topic in recent months. The article, Lending Circles Help Latinas Pay Bills and Invest, is one example. Modern tandas are aiming to bridge a cultural custom with the credit union experience.

To leverage the benefits and emotional, cultural and community connections of the tanda on a larger scale, Coopera worked with Travis Credit Union (TCU) based in Vacaville, Calif. through a grant from the National Credit Union Foundation, to create the modern version of a tandas — the New Era Tanda Program. This program was specifically designed to bring the concept of the tanda to the credit union, where people helping people is the organization’s primary mission.

In addition to supporting Latino families save and borrow, the program helps individuals open accounts, build a credit history and receive financial education.

Participants in the program contribute on a monthly basis to a shared savings account and also receive a group share-secured loan to help save for a down-payment on a vehicle. After satisfactory completion of the program, each participant is eligible for a TCU credit-building credit card and/or auto loan. The program uses a grassroots and culturally relevant approach tailored to the local Latino community.

TCU’s program is just one example of how tandas can work in the mainstream financial system. Through modern tandas, credit unions of any size and in any location can realize tremendous opportunity to engage with the Latino community, as well as to bridge cultural traditions and customs with good financial alternatives.

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Grant Fund to Help Credit Unions Invest in Hispanic Membership Growth

Posted by on February 25, 2014

Visionary and Coopera Founder Warren Morrow

Last week, we announced in partnership with the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) the development of a grant fund in honor of Warren Morrow, credit union advocate and Coopera founder. The Warren Morrow Hispanic Growth Fund, established through the National Credit Union Foundation will help credit unions with less than $500 million in assets start or enhance a Hispanic growth program.

Warren was a visionary in the credit union industry who saw immense potential for growth for those cooperatives that focused strategically on serving the largest, fastest-growing and youngest community in the United States. To carry on his legacy, this fund supports what Warren believed deeply – that credit unions were the avenue to providing dignified financial services to Hispanics.

“I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Warren than by carrying forward his vision,” CUNA COO Jill Tomalin commented in our press release. “CUNA is pleased to be working with Coopera to launch the new fund and we look forward to its impact.”

To kick off contributions to the fund, Coopera will donate $1,000 as a part of its participation in the “Make a Difference” project hosted from its booth (#329) at the CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC), February 23-27 in Washington, D.C.

Donations can be made anytime by visiting http://tinyurl.com/morrowdonation.

A celebration will take place at the 2014 CUNA Community Credit Union & Growth Conference, scheduled for November 3-6 in Las Vegas. More details will be announced later.

Warren, who passed away in early 2012 at the age of 34, founded Coopera in 2006 in partnership with the Iowa Credit Union League to help credit unions across the country reach and serve Hispanics as an opportunity for growth. In 2009, Coopera also partnered with the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) to form an exclusive alliance partnership to further Hispanic outreach throughout the credit union industry.

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The Need for Back Translations in 2014 and Beyond

Posted by on January 21, 2014

The Hispanic market in the U.S. continues to grow and change at a rapid pace, which will present significant opportunities (and challenges) in 2014. One of the most important ways to prepare right now to better serve Hispanic members in the coming year is to conduct an audit of your bilingual marketing materials and signage.

One of the most common misconceptions about the Hispanic culture is that Hispanics speak different forms of Spanish. Although there are different colloquialisms or words, phrases or statements that are unique to a certain culture or region, there are not completely different forms of the language — the basic language structure of Spanish is shared. Because there are cultural nuances in the Spanish language, it is important for your credit union to make sure that your translations are accurately conveying your messages. The best way to accomplish this is by performing what are called “back translations.”

What is a back translation? It is a second translation of text back to the original language (in most cases, English) to ensure developers understand the final meaning of their translation.

When the source language is English, there is often discrepancy in the meaning between the original source and the back translation. Spanish, for example, has a notably different vocabulary, and many words that are used in English simply don’t exist. Back translations should be performed to ensure that the language is a correct translation of the original, in which, the meaning was not changed, but also the readability of the text has not been affected through the translation process. The process should include conducting at least two back translations and working with the original translation to accommodate the findings of the back translation.

Here’s an example: When you translate the English phrase “all the rage” to Spanish, you do not want to convey the literal meaning but rather the cultural meaning of that phrase. The Spanish translation of this phrase could be “lo ultimo.” A back translation of “lo ultimo” would tell you that you are translating “all the rage” to a similar phrase that will be understood in Spanish that means “the latest.”

The important thing to remember when doing back translations is that the person doing the back translation should be familiar with the original version in English to avoid inadvertently changing meanings of the content. For credit unions, here are some examples of common phrases you’d likely have translated and the corresponding back translations:

English source: Limit our sharing
Spanish translation:  
Limite la confidencialidad  que compartimos
Correct back translation: Limit the confidentiality we share

English source: Build Credit
Spanish translation: 
Establecer un Historial de Crédito
Correct back translation: Establish a Credit History

To prove how easy it can be to incorrectly back translate certain phrases, here are some examples of back translations gone wrong:

English source: Batch (transactions)
Spanish translation: Partida
Incorrect back translation: Departure

English source: Arrangement between two parties
Spanish translation: Arreglo entre dos partes
Incorrect back translation: To fix two parts

Although they may seem to be a time-consuming and expensive task, back translations are a critically important part of your credit union’s validation and cultural adaptation to specific Hispanic markets. Doing back translations can help to avoid errors, as well as better understand what the credit union has had trans-created. For instance, many credit union compliance or legal departments request back translations to double check that approved messages are what is truly being distributed to members.

By becoming more familiar with the language nuances of your credit union’s local Hispanic population, you will be better positioned to provide for these members’ needs. For credit unions willing to invest the time and resources, the benefits of a bilingual marketing audit will greatly outweigh the perceived costs.

To best understand the make-up of the local population Coopera can help with a comprehensive market analysis. Rest assured, however, the basics of the Spanish language will be understood by your Hispanic members.

 

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