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  • Case Study: Evolving Efforts Result in Success

    Posted by on March 5, 2013

    What follows is a case study excerpt from the Hispanic Opportunity Report developed as part of the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues’ newly formed partnership with Coopera.

    In 2005, Patsy Van Ouwerkerk, president and CEO of Travis Credit Union, headquartered in Vacaville, Calif., and the credit union’s Board of Directors and senior management team recognized many Hispanics in their local communities were underserved and were thirsty for dignified, affordable financial services.

    Nearly 40 percent of California’s residents identify themselves as Hispanic, and that number is predicted to continue climbing at a rapid rate.

    “At the time, we identified an advantage our credit union had over other area financial institutions,” said Travis Credit Union Director of Corporate Relations Shérry Cordonnier. “Whereas other providers were looking to prey on underserved individuals, we truly wanted to partner with them. We also knew there was only a small window of opportunity to build and capture loyalty with potential Hispanic members. As such, we implemented several programs to strengthen our efforts to attract and retain Hispanic members.”

    Many of these programs, Cordonnier added, continue today.

    Travis CU began its initial Hispanic outreach that year by partnering with Filene Research Institute to better understand the size and needs of the local Hispanic market. With this background information, they began to formulate strategies and initiatives for better targeting members in their communities. Realizing their initial activities were working and overall membership was increasing, the cooperative decided it was time to take its efforts to the next level — the development of a comprehensive, strategic plan that would be sustainable for the long term.

    “We had already set our strategic direction when I was introduced to Warren [Morrow, late CEO of Coopera] who was speaking at a conference about how Coopera was helping credit unions with their Hispanic outreach efforts,” said Cordonnier. “Not many financial institutions were doing this type of outreach at that time, so we needed a partner that could help us pioneer new activities and help us be true innovators. After talking more with Coopera, we knew they would be able to help us get to that level.”

    To kick-off a partnership with Coopera, Van Ouwerkerk invited Morrow to participate in the credit union’s Board spring planning session in 2009. The credit union initially utilized the firm’s consulting services to develop strategies for becoming more visible to potential Hispanic members in the communities they serve. At Coopera’s recommendation, the Travis CU team implemented the Hispanic Opportunity Navigator (HON) to get a snapshot of how effective they had already been in serving the Hispanic community and to identify what opportunities may be in the future.

    The credit union also worked hard to bolster its grassroots marketing efforts, said Cordonnier. Some of those initiatives include:
    • becoming active in local organizations, such as family resource centers, churches and Project Head Start and Hispanic chambers of commerce
    • working with organizations of diversity and their local board of directors
    • partnering with community leaders to provide assistance to immigrants
    • getting involved with local academic and educational programs that influence the Hispanic demographic
    • developing an internal bilingual advisory group
    • developing strategic partnerships with organizations to influence the Hispanic demographic
    • developing relationships with local and regional Hispanic media to educate Hispanics about the differences between banks and credit unions

    Since initiating these programs, Travis CU, serving members out of 22 locations in Northern California, has realized 5-percent membership growth year-over-year, and now counts Hispanic members as 20 percent of its overall membership.

    To further evolve its outreach efforts, Travis CU initiated two new programs to position the credit union as a trusted financial advisor in the Hispanic market.

    The first program, New Era Tanda, debuted in 2012. It is designed around Hispanic tandas (also known as cundinas, sans or quinelas). Informal borrowing/lending circles, tandas are common to Latin American cultures. The modernized tanda, developed by Travis CU, is aimed at bridging a cultural custom with the credit union experience.

    Funded by a National Credit Union Foundation grant, Travis CU is piloting the New Era Tanda program with two groups in Solano and Yolo counties. Each group is composed of six people and helps participants develop a 12-month shared savings goal and to take advantage of the credit union’s unique savings and loan offerings. The program offers monthly meetings with financial literacy courses offered in Spanish.

    After graduating from the program, New Era Tanda participants are then eligible for individual product offerings to meet their credit-building and/or vehicle-purchase goals. Due to the anticipated success of the pilots, Cordonnier said Travis CU might consider making the New Era Tanda a permanent program available in the credit union’s 22 branch locations in the future.

    Travis CU also launched an immersion program in 2012, aimed at bolstering the credit union’s current employee training efforts. The goal of the immersion program is to illuminate the immigrant experience for Travis CU employees, making them more sensitive to Hispanic members’ needs and challenges.

    During a series of cultural immersion sessions nearly 140 Travis CU employees took their training from the classroom to the real world. Visiting Mi Pueblo Food Center in Vallejo, Calif., and El Tejaban restaurant in Vacaville, employees at both businesses were instructed to speak only in Spanish to Travis CU employees, allowing them a first-hand experience with the challenges of being understood as a foreign–language citizen.

    “The exercise placed Travis employees in the same situation as our Spanish-only speaking members, demonstrating to them what it might be like for those members when they visit the credit union,” said Cordonnier. “In return, our employees gained a new empathy for many of our Hispanic members and what they experience every day. The training focused on treating these members with respect and dignity, reading body language and the importance of understanding and communicating the credit union’s products and services in both English and Spanish.”

    According to Cordonnier, the training helped provide Travis CU employees a better understanding of the credit union’s current outreach efforts and the need for additional trainings in the future. In addition, the training helped employees overcome concerns, fears and anxiety related to serving members not like themselves. As a result of the program, Cordonnier and the senior management team at Travis CU have noticed the employees are more accepting of the credit union’s Hispanic outreach efforts and have taken steps to share their experiences with others. They regularly initiate more efforts, including asking Travis CU to provide financial vocabulary lists in Spanish, more training, bilingual staffing, additional marketing and more involvement in Hispanic events.

    Also, noted Cordonnier, employees have become more active in local community organizations. An an example, Eric Maldonado, Travis CU’s community involvement officer for Contra Costa County, is currently serving a term as President of the Contra Costa County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which has been recognized as the 2012 Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of the Year in California.

    “By gaining a better understanding of our Hispanic members,” continued Cordonnier, “Travis employees now help our leadership team develop better strategies to increase membership, grow revenue and boost loan volume with this important demographic.”

    Another by-product of the immersion program has been the building of trust with local Hispanic merchants in the communities Travis CU serves. The programs have been well-received by these businesses, as many have brought the merchants new customers and revenue growth opportunities, as well as opened the door for new partnerships in future outreach efforts.

    In recognition of their outstanding community outreach efforts, Travis CU was named the Community Leader of the Year by the Solano County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in October, 2012. “This award is usually given to an individual,” said Cordonnier. “It is an honor to be the first business to ever receive it.”

    Because of its successful investment in the local Hispanic community, Travis CU plans to implement more immersion training sessions in the future to make sure all employees have the opportunity to participate. They also hope to add more bilingual staff and offer more products and services targeted to their Hispanic members’ needs.

    “As we continue to enhance our Hispanic outreach programs to build awareness for our credit union within the communities we serve, we know that the investment we’re making has not only been good for the strategic growth of the credit union,” concluded Cordonnier, “but has also proved to be important to the overall credit union movement. We have seen first-hand that our mission of ‘people helping people’ is truly the right approach to take as we work to build trust with, and provide much-needed services to, this growing market.”

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