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  • Hispanic Outreach – It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

    Posted by on October 29, 2013

    Associated Credit Union, headquartered in Norcross, Ga. (20 miles northeast of Atlanta), is one of the state’s oldest financial institutions. Chartered in 1930 to provide low-cost financial services to its members, Associated Credit Union’s mission has evolved and now includes better serving underserved populations, including the Hispanic community. To do this, Associated Credit Union laid out a multi-year, comprehensive strategic initiative and is in the process of implementing it.

    “Several years ago, Associated Credit Union’s executive management team looked at the demographics of the Atlanta metro market from the 2010 Census numbers for opportunities to grow our membership base,” said Annia Reyes, training manager at Associated Credit Union. “The data drove our credit union to the strategic decision to focus on the emerging Hispanic population.”

    What Associated Credit Union discovered through its research was that the overall Hispanic population in the metro Atlanta area at the time of the Census was estimated at 530,000. From a county perspective, Gwinnett County, which houses six out of Associated Credit Union’s 28 branches, contained the largest population of Hispanics at an estimated 190,000 and was noted as one of the fastest growing counties for Hispanics in the state. In fact, it is estimated that by 2020, 40 percent of the population in Gwinnett County will be Hispanic.

    Equipped with this information, Associated Credit Union turned to Coopera for guidance. The credit union utilized the company’s Hispanic Opportunity Navigator (HON) to better understand what was needed to serve the local Hispanic community.

    Thru further research, Associated Credit Union discovered that the median age of the Atlanta metro Hispanic market was quite young, between ages 25 and 26, with annual personal earnings ranging from $17,000-$23,000. And, this trend was expected to continue for years to come, as 11 percent of K-12 students in the Atlanta area were Hispanic.

    “With Coopera’s help, we were able to put together a rough sketch of our project plan,” said Huff, project management manager at Associated Credit Union. “We then customized the plan to best meet our objectives and to best serve our new members. We knew we needed to find out what Hispanics in the Atlanta market really needed and wanted out of a financial institution.”

    Led by a 15-person implementation team, comprised of both management and frontline staff, Associated Credit Union began to lay the foundation and framework for this initiative. The process included gaining a better understanding of staffing needs, an evaluation of products and services, as well as the development of promotions and new marketing materials. It also included internal education and communication. “With this strategic initiative, we were dramatically changing the culture of the organization to become more diverse,” said Reyes. “We are not only committed to our members but to also our staff.  It’s crucial that our employees are well informed and receive consistent, on-going training.”

    The implementation team quickly took charge, initiating periodic staff training meetings on Wednesday mornings before the credit union opened for business, as well as, putting together staff events around local celebrations like Cinco de Mayo. Reyes, Huff and members of the implementation team also held monthly meetings with Associated Credit Union’s executive management team, as well as provided regular updates to the management team during the bi-weekly managers’ meeting. “Building a solid Hispanic outreach initiative is a marathon, not a sprint,” said Reyes. “We had full buy-in from the credit union from the beginning, and it was our job to keep things fresh and exciting during the process to make sure everyone stayed motivated through implementation. Keeping the lines of communication open at all levels of the credit union has been critical.”

    Initially, the plan was to roll out the project in four branches, but as the implementation team continued to work on the initiative, they decided instead to “soft” launch in one branch first. “We tweaked our rollout strategy because of the reality of staffing needs and the learning curve, both internally and within the community,” said Huff. “We did a market analysis of Associated Credit Union’s entire operations area, which helped us determine that we needed to focus our initial efforts in our Norcross branch location. We then worked to hire bilingual staff in that branch, as well as in all of our customer-facing departments (i.e. the call center, loan processing center and so on).”

    At this point, Associated Credit Union hired its first branch manager from outside the organization in 30 years. The candidate was bilingual and had industry experience that would help lead the charge in the Norcross branch.

    Initial launch efforts have focused on word-of-mouth outreach, as well as advertising in a local Spanish newspaper, Mundo Hispánico. Also, Associated Credit Union’s marketing department worked to create bilingual versions of the credit union’s most-used collateral, including membership applications, deposit slips and product and service handouts.

    The credit union also worked to make sure its products and services were able to meet the needs of all its members, including Hispanics. The implementation focused on making sure Associated Credit Union’s rate-reward loan program and first-time car buyer programs were available during the soft launch, as well as working with Associated Credit Union’s vendors, like its reloadable prepaid debit card supplier, to make sure these vendors’ customer-facing departments offered bilingual support. The credit union is also investigating adding remittance products in the near future to make sure the credit union is meeting the money transfer needs of the Hispanic marketplace.

    Other future initiatives include adding a Spanish page to the credit union’s website, as well as broader community outreach efforts, such as financial literacy programs and local business partnerships.

    “We know that growing our Hispanic membership base will not happen overnight,” said Huff. “Even after our successful soft launch there is much work to be done yet. We are taking a conservative approach to growing opportunities with all emerging markets to make sure we’ve set reasonable objectives and are meeting our plan’s milestones.

    “Our initial goal is to grow five percent in Hispanic membership over the course of the upcoming year,” continued Huff. “Out of this, we would like between 60-65 percent of these new members to open a checking account and request a debit card. As we become more familiar with the Hispanic membership needs, and as they become more trusting of us as a financial institution, we will then focus on really growing loans with the new Hispanic membership.

    “It is our objective to become the primary financial institution for Hispanics in the Atlanta market, especially Gwinnett County,” finished Huff. “And we’re willing to make the necessary investments to see this happen.”

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