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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