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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