A decade ago, the roots of Coopera were planted by a visionary credit union leader with big dreams for the future. Warren Morrow saw more than 45 million Hispanic people, each working to enrich their communities across the country.
He asked, “How can credit unions become providers of choice for dignified financial services in this emerging community? How can the credit union industry better serve this segment – the largest, fastest-growing, youngest and most financially underserved minority group in the United States?”
Rather than wait for those questions to be answered, Warren set out to answer them. His enthusiasm for improving the financial lives of Hispanic consumers was contagious. As more leaders in the credit union movement saw the opportunities, Coopera began to grow.
Over its 10-year history, Coopera has worked with more than 200 credit unions, credit union system organizations and non-credit unions located in 30 states across the country and has served more than 1,000,000 Hispanic consumers. The firm applies the diverse expertise and skill sets of its leadership to carry out the vision of Coopera’s founder.
Within its first year, Coopera, in partnership with the Iowa Credit Union League and Iowa Credit Union Foundation, launched a state-wide asset-building and savings account program for working Iowans and partnered with credit union associations in New York and Louisiana to mobilize more cooperatives around the mission of serving Hispanic members.
By the end of 2009, Texas, Nebraska and Georgia credit union leagues, as well as the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) had joined in the mission. Together, CUNA, the leagues and Coopera built tools, conducted research and created educational programs.
As the first decade of the new Millennium was coming to a close, CUNA and Coopera teamed to create El Poder es Tuyo (The Power is Yours), the only Spanish-language personal finance website for Hispanic credit union members. Today, the site reaches Hispanic members in more than 14 states across the country.
Building tools to improve the financial lives of Hispanic consumers continued. In 2001, Coopera partnered with its payments processing sister company TMG, now a part of CO-OP Financial Services, to build a prepaid card especially for the unique needs of the Hispanic consumer. The card was rated as the 5th Most Affordable Prepaid Card by NerdWallet.
Five years into its mission, the Coopera team lost its founder when he passed away unexpectedly. Yet Warren’s crystal clear vision continued to guide the leaders of this fast-moving company.
California and Nevada credit unions got on board in 2012, partnering with Coopera to study the Hispanic consumer segment and create multi-state educational opportunities for credit union leaders.
As Coopera honed its research and training skills, it became evident these were core competencies that could benefit even more cooperatives throughout the country. As a result, the company launched a series of Hispanic Market Analysis tools and an online resource library for professionals who wanted to grow their own Hispanic market expertise. Credit unions using these analysis tools have seen annualized Hispanic membership grow nearly four times as fast as that of non-Hispanic members. What’s more, checking and lending penetration rates at these credit unions have increased twice as fast as that of non-Hispanic members.
In 2015, Coopera’s decade of achievement was recognized alongside its AMC family of companies with one of the highest honors the credit union industry has developed, the Herb Wegner Memorial award.
Over the past several years, Coopera and its partner the Federation have put the Juntos Avanzamos designation on a national stage. A signal to Hispanic consumers that a credit union has their best interests in mind, the designation is another way to communicate credit union’s passion for and willingness to serve the Hispanic community.
Over Coopera’s 10 year history, many strategic partners have helped raise awareness of the struggles faced by Hispanic consumers, but also the great opportunity they represent. These organizations have helped hundreds of credit unions realize the influence and the value of what remains America’s largest, fast-growing, young and financially underserved minority group.
It’s a message that’s expanding far beyond the credit union space. Executives and business leaders in insurance, health care, higher education and many others are answering the call to adapt to the unique needs of a multi-faceted Hispanic consumer segment.
In just under a decade, the Hispanic community grew from 45 million to more than 57 million.
10 million in 10 years. That’s explosive growth. That’s amazing opportunity.
Many of that 57 million are still seeking the American dream. And, credit unions are helping them achieve that, one member at a time. In fact, 25 percent of Hispanics in the U.S. are now credit union members.
Coopera’s team of Hispanic market experts is also beginning to work with businesses and organizations beyond financial services. Its leaders, which include De Dios, Client Relations Director Alba Perez, Client Support Specialist Lizeth Aquino and Project Assistant Kenia Calderon, are applying their knowledge of emerging markets to engagement with other industries, as well.
As more businesses, organizations and community leaders are inspired by the credit union movement’s success, Coopera will be there, ready to partner for the success of their organizations and the greater Hispanic community.Leave a comment
David Suarez, bilingual community development manager at Iowa’s Community 1st Credit Union, says insists the key to building connections with Hispanic members is trust. “We have to gain that trust in the community,” he said. “We conduct outreach with community leaders, schools – even soccer teams – so we can show them we are offering not only services, but education. Typically, they are very interested to learn, but it’s important to know they may not have the basic knowledge of financial concepts. You have to get close to them to understand their particular point of view and their particular issue. Only then can you begin to develop the clear, simple messages you need to start them down the path to financial success in the U.S.”
Among the connections Suarez and the Community 1st leadership has built is a partnership with the Mexican Consulate of Omaha, Guadalupe Sanchez Salazar. Shortly after building a relationship with Sanchez Salazar, the credit union signed an agreement to collaborate for the benefit of Mexican nationals that live in Iowa. As part of that agreement, any Community 1st member with a matricula consular card and Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) has access to nearly all of the credit union’s products and services, including mortgages. This will be hugely important to the credit union as it looks to serve more Mexican immigrants, which today make up 75 percent of Iowa’s immigrant population. Suarez pointed out the credit union is also working with the IRS to help more of its community members obtain ITINs. “We’re excited to help the community understand that with this number comes great advantages, such as checking accounts, loans and potentially even a mortgage.”
In addition, the credit union is working with Iowa State University’s Extension and Outreach agency, which connects Iowans with the university’s research and resources. The agency is helping the credit union understand the education levels of the Hispanic community members local to the 15 communities PFCU serves through 17 locations in Iowa and northern Missouri.
CU Achieves Juntos Avanzamos Designation
In 2016, the credit union was given the Juntos Avanzamos designation, which translates to “Together, we advance. Awarded by the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions and Coopera, the designation is a national recognition of the work and commitment made to offer financial services to the Hispanic community. The designation also makes a public proclamation to the Hispanic community that the Juntos Avanzamos credit union welcomes the Hispanic community.
On the strategic roadmap for Community 1st is continuous employee training and cross-department education so every staff member is aware they can accept alternative forms of identification to serve more community members. In addition, the credit union will conduct more community outreach, pursue a community development financial institution (CDFI) designation and institute a series of financial education programs in the coming year.
To read how Community 1st has helped one very appreciative member achieve his American dream, download “Hispanic Member Growth Not Just for ‘Gateway States’ Anymore.”Leave a comment
Sometimes the best way to lead a successful strategy is to have survived an unsuccessful one. That is precisely the spirit with which Anne Hagen is approaching her credit union’s second go at Hispanic membership growth. The vice president of marketing for Iowa’s Community 1st Credit Union, Hagen believes one of the biggest lessons learned from the cooperative’s first attempt was that a single champion of the program is not enough.
“We identified how important it would be to serve the Hispanic community back in 2007,” said Hagen. “When we lost the key person leading that effort, however, the program fizzled out. After continuing to evaluate the segment and truly understanding how underserved it is, we knew we had to try again.”
President and CEO Greg Hanshaw explained that the calling to do more is rooted in the credit union’s 80-year history. “Our goal as an organization has always been to personify the credit union philosophy of people helping people. Although that can sound cliché, it’s the real deal around here. And it’s a huge part of why we felt years ago it was critically important to reach the Hispanic market.”
CU Recognizes Need for Grassroots Leadership
The credit union recognized a Hispanic member growth plan would need to be a cooperative-wide initiative supported by everyone from frontline staff to the C-suite. Yet, they also understood the importance of hiring an empathetic community member. This individual would help credit union staff better identify and overcome obstacles to engaging the Hispanic community. David Suarez joined the credit union as Bilingual Community Development Manager in June 2015. Suarez then helped recruit Edith Cabrera, the credit union’s first Hispanic board member.
“When David came to the credit union, he did not sit back,” said Hagen. “He immediately identified those areas where we weren’t doing enough for the community and started building initiatives from scratch. He spearheaded partnership with Coopera to help us learn best practices and with local Hispanic organizations to get us connected to the community in a grassroots way.”
According to Hagen, Suarez has a knack for explaining to community members how a credit union can help. “His message really resonates with the Hispanic people in the communities we serve.” The result has been close relationships with many credit union members, many of whom attribute their financial successes to his guidance.
That knack for explaining extends to Suarez’s influence inside the credit union. “One thing I’ve learned from David is a lot of the folks in Iowa have come from cultures and backgrounds where they didn’t trust the financial system that was built to provide those types of services,” said Hanshaw. “So we have an opportunity to show what a not-for-profit cooperative is and how it is uniquely built to provide services to people who may not meet the right criteria at a traditional financial institution.”
To read more about Community 1st all-in approach to Hispanic membership growth, download “Hispanic Member Growth Not Just for ‘Gateway States’ Anymore.”Leave a comment
Credit Union ‘Jump Starts’ Staff Passion for Hispanic Member Service with Immersion Exercises, Training
Buy-in from management was a critical first step to developing the Prime Financial Credit Union’s (PFCU) Hispanic member growth plan. And it did not come easily. After all, the credit union was still recovering from a conservatorship, and prudent board members wanted to be sure the plan would be strategic and well-executed.
“We saw this large population that really needed our products and services, and we wanted to do it right. Just throwing up a sign that said, “We speak Spanish,’ was not going to cut it,” said Colleen Jakubowski, PFCU’s chief operating officer.
To lay the groundwork for their strategic roadmap, the credit union began working with Coopera on a series of surveys to reveal the true needs of the Hispanic community in Milwaukee. Coopera also spoke with PFCU’s staff to uncover sentiments employees may not want to share with the credit union’s leadership.
“Coopera’s staff took us through an immersion exercise where we went to a local market for lunch,” said Jakubowski. “We were challenged to speak Spanish the entire time and to get to know people in the community. It was something of a cultural awakening for us. That activity really jump-started the passion. We learned a lot about a culture we didn’t know, and came away understanding that’s exactly what we can do for our members.”
PFCU Mobilizes Team of Volunteers
Training bilingual employees to not only speak the right words but also have the cultural awareness to adequately explain financial products was critically important, as well. In January 2016, PFCU mobilized a team of 13 volunteers who are now leading the execution of the credit union’s Hispanic growth plan. Divided into subgroups, such as marketing, Spanish language and compliance, the team is playing an instrumental role in the development and launch of PFCU’s new branch location.
PFCU has also developed a business curriculum for a class of Spanish speaking employees who want to expand their knowledge of the U.S. financial system vocabulary. According to PFCU Director of Organizational Development Amy Goratowski, these individuals are highly engaged and passionate about continually improving their skills.
Among the challenges Jakubowski and Goratowski cite is difficulty containing staff excitement about the prospect of gaining new members from the Hispanic community. “We can’t do it all,” said Goratowski. “We still have to be frugal, but the great thing about this community is word of mouth. Once they become aware of all we have to offer, it will be huge.”
To read more about PFCU’s Hispanic membership growth strategy, download “Hispanic Member Growth Not Just for ‘Gateway States’ Anymore.”Leave a comment
Something was changing in the community. The staff of Milwaukee’s Prime Financial Credit Union (PFCU) could feel it. More visitors to the 90-year-old cooperative were asking for Spanish translators and fewer came equipped with the basics of U.S. financial system awareness.
“It got to the point where it was a topic of conversation at every meeting,” said Colleen Jakubowski, PFCU’s chief operating officer. “We knew there was a Hispanic community here. But we didn’t know how large it was, nor how underserved many of the members of that community were.”
Her colleague, PFCU Director of Organizational Development Amy Goratowski, agreed: “Over the years, we had noticed less volume in our branches. It became clear we needed to devote a location to the Hispanic community – somewhere they would feel immediately welcome and comfortable. We’re excited to be breaking ground on that branch as we speak.”
Talk with Jakubowski and Goratowski and you can feel their excitement about the future of Hispanic membership growth at PFCU. The pair have a self-described justice mentality that has intrinsically motivated them to pursue improvements in the way the cooperative serves this influential and growing segment of Milwaukee – a city that saw its Hispanic numbers rise nearly 175 percent from 1990 to 2014. “We really get excited by the prospect of making things better for people,” said Jakubowski. “It’s what we like to do.”
Rich Experience Adapting Products and Services
Because the credit union serves a high percentage (70 percent) of members who reside in low-income neighborhoods, there is rich experience adapting products, training employees and making community connections already within PFCU. Jakubowski and Goratowski believe these competencies are helping them achieve early success in their Hispanic membership growth plan. “By serving segments that need special assistance or special products, we are actually getting back to our roots,” said Jakubowski. “Bigger financial institutions are about making money. That’s not us. We’re about reaching those people that need us most.”
Getting back to the credit union’s roots was an objective that came after a lot of soul searching. The only Wisconsin credit union to survive conservatorship, PFCU emerged ready to recommit to the right people. “We took a hard look at everything we were doing,” said Jakubowski, who noted the credit union is fully staffed at 55 with four active branches and a strong net worth. “What we discovered is we were doing a better job chasing people who maybe didn’t need us rather than serving those who did. These were the people we saw every day.”
Among the discoveries made during what Jakubowski calls the “enlightening period” was that many of the credit union’s most loyal members were not taking advantage of beneficial products, such as low-rate credit cards or fee-free checking accounts. As a result, leadership began to seek out grants and designations that could help them execute on their reignited mission to help community members become and stay financially healthy. They achieved a low-income designation from the NCUA, which has allowed them freedom to pursue new objectives, such as those inside the Hispanic membership growth plan.
Products Designed to Build Credit Histories
Many of the products and services already on the PFCU roadmap are ideal for the local Hispanic community, Coopera research has found. Payday loans, for example, are providing a much-need service as new regulatory requirements are expected to shutter some payday lending businesses. A responsible lender, the credit union will only allow one loan at a time, and each loan will be capped at $500. Because the credit union reports on these loans to the credit bureaus, members who take advantage of the product will be building credit histories, an important step to establishing financial wellness.
PFCU’s credit rebuilder account, too, is a great match for many unbanked people in Milwaukee. Members can open the account immediately with zero deposit down, and there is no minimum balance. A portion of the funds goes to pay off debts, which helps members increase their credit scores. The credit union also offers certificates for as low as $250 and other loans for as low as $500.
To learn more about the strategic evolution of PFCU’s Hispanic membership growth strategy, download “Hispanic Member Growth Not Just for ‘Gateway States’ Anymore.”Leave a comment
By Guest Blogger Michael Adams, Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations at Greater Iowa Credit Union
In working with Coopera, we have found it important to get the structural components in place before launching any significant outreach to the Hispanic community. This includes things like laying a solid foundation complete with Hispanic-friendly membership policies, as well as securing employee, leadership and board support. Only after this can you begin to do the fun stuff, like product development or marketing.
Not everyone on a credit union’s leadership team or board of directors may be fully supportive of an Hispanic outreach program, and some products, such as ITIN loans, for example, may be downright scary to them. A vocal board member who is not on board can create barriers to any proposal. We discovered early on that some credit union administrators and board members can have a knee-jerk reaction to the creation of an aggressive Hispanic initiative.
More often than not, education regarding the needs of this community is necessary. Once you do get a good customer identification program in place and board support, you can begin the rewarding work of reaching out to the Hispanic community with products and services that are useful to them, such as remittance services, free checking, reloadable debit cards, ITIN and other culturally relevant loans.Leave a comment
By Guest Blogger and Interim Coopera CEO Murray Williams
Coopera celebrated its five-year anniversary last week. Not an insignificant milestone – and one we would normally toast with gusto. But the day took on a more reflective and bittersweet tone, as we remembered Coopera’s founder and our friend, Warren Morrow, who unexpectedly passed away on Feb. 15.
Warren was not only Coopera’s CEO, he was my good friend and close colleague for more than six years. We shared a lot of special milestones together – both professionally and personally. So yesterday was emotional for me, Miriam, Anna and the rest of the team, knowing this time we’d be toasting with Warren from afar.
We all carry a piece of Warren’s spirit with us. I am unequivocally better for knowing him and proud to have a small role in moving his vast legacy forward. There’s never been a more critical time to champion Coopera’s work of “doing well by doing good.”
Miriam and I recently participated in CUNA’s Government Affairs Conference and came back energized about the future. From CUNA’s Hispanic Outreach Committee efforts, to the programs of the Network of Latino Credit Union Professionals (NLCUP), to the countless credit union leaders who are making Hispanic outreach a strategic priority, the thought leadership in our movement is astounding. We’ve never felt more momentum or urgency in our collective cause.
In fact, it was Warren’s cause, as well as his vision and his collaborative spirit that has largely brought our industry to where it is today – to bring dignified financial services to the underserved Hispanic community.
The future is incredibly bright. The need is great. Credit unions are uniquely positioned to meet that need. And Coopera will be there to help lead the charge – now and for years into the future.
Warren would be proud.
Happy Anniversary, mi amigo.
Leave a comment
By Guest Blogger Oscar Porras, Community Liaison at Maps Credit Union
The 2010 U.S. Census showed that the Hispanic population increased 43 percent since 2000. In our neck of the words (Oregon), we’ve seen a whopping 63.5 percent increase over the same period of time. An essential part of reaching out to our Hispanic neighbors is presenting products and services in a way that is culturally relevant.
At Maps Credit Union, in cooperation with Coopera, we are working to add some of the services that are most important to the Hispanic community, such as credit builder loans, remittance services and prepaid reloadable cards. We have set up inter-departmental teams to discuss these products, and we look forward to rolling out our first new product in the first quarter of 2012.
It has not been easy. There have been some challenges, including negative attitudes from a small number of staff. Then again, anything worth fighting for always brings challenges. We are working to address our internal and external issues through open and honest communication. Racism, stereotypes, and the like all come from misinformation. Educating staff about their new neighbors will help foster a credit union culture of acceptance and understanding.
I look forward to my new role as Community Liaison at Maps Credit Union and adding another wonderful piece to our credit union culture. I would love to hear about your challenges and victories as your institutions move toward a greater focus on welcoming the members of your local Hispanic communities.Leave a comment
By Guest Blogger Michael Adams, Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations at Greater Iowa Credit Union
Like everyone else who either worked with or knew Warren Morrow personally, we at Greater Iowa Credit Union were shocked and saddened to learn of his passing. The credit union industry and the Latino community lost an incredible leader, humanitarian and friend.
As early clients of Coopera, and we worked closely with Warren and Miriam De Dios to structure and fund a Latino initiative that included policy changes, new membership procedures, educational programming, raising cultural awareness of the staff and launching products and services specifically designed to appeal to first- and second-generation Latino families and individuals. As part of that program, Greater Iowa identified funding that would be given each year to a deserving Latino high school student who was interested in going to college.
With a vote of support from the credit union’s Corporate Giving Committee and endorsement from the board of directors, this program has been increased to three $500 scholarships that will be known in the future as the Warren Morrow Latino Educational Scholarship.
Each year, we at Greater Iowa work with the Latino Liaison staff with the Des Moines Public Schools and the superintendent of the Crawford County Schools in Denison to identify students worthy of the honor. The winning students are invited to join us at the annual Latino Heritage Festival in Des Moines to receive a check. It’s one of the most rewarding things we do each year.
By naming this scholarship after Warren, we wanted to honor his vision and legacy. In our modest way, we will be able to share Warren’s story with future generations of students whose stories, in many ways, will resemble his—of young people who came to this country as children with a hunger for education and a compelling need to do good work.Leave a comment
By Guest Blogger Alejandro Alaniz, Account Relationship Specialist at Des Moines Metro Credit Union
I was hired at Des Moines Metro Credit Union (DMMCU) in February 2008 to lead DMMCU’s Latino outreach efforts for the credit union. I was very excited for the opportunity and to get going on the effort. The only problem was that I was a little scared and lost because I was the one who would be starting the main initiative for the push!
I am the first person here at DMMCU to be hired for this position, and there had been no previous precedent to look to. It was just me and Traci Stiles, DMMCU’s marketing director, to go out and show the local Latino community what a credit union is and why DMMCU is different from other financial institutions. The task seem large, but yet a fun one at that!
Before I joined DMMCU, they had done a great job of having Coopera’s Warren Morrow come in and talk to our board of directors about why it would be a huge benefit for DMMCU to start marketing to the local Latino community.
With his help and DMMCU’s management team, the board decided that it was indeed a good idea and jumped aboard. With the go ahead, Traci started a small and targeted marketing effort with Spanish materials to be handed out and also delivered to our SEGs.
Another important step DMMCU took was having a strategic planning session that included Coopera, the board of directors and our the management team . The planning session came up with a timeline and action plans to be accomplished by specified time frames in order to better gauge accomplishments. One important task was to hire a full-time bilingual employee to be the head of the effort.
That’s where I came in. I was excited by the fact that “I” would be the one starting a new outreach effort for DMMCU! My biggest hurdle to overcome was “Where do I begin?”
I had so many thoughts going trough my head, thinking of what options we had available. Do we send a mailing? Have an open house? Do T.V. commercials? Radio ads? Do we hire a banner plane? Ok maybe not the banner plane, but I didn’t know where to start.
Luckily Traci had some smart and simple ideas to get started. Stay tuned to this blog, as I’ll get into those smart, simple ideas next time!Leave a comment