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  • Small Ideas, Big Change: Ways to Make Your Organization Stronger

    Posted by on September 19, 2017

    Earlier this month, I had the privilege of joining eight other local leaders in sharing 10 ideas for the Des Moines Business Record’s “90 Ideas in 90 Minutes” event. The experience was truly inspiring and educational.

    From Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert’s reminder to applaud others and not take our employees for granted to Des Moines University President Angela Franklin’s advice to embrace change and maintain open minds, the ideas shared will strengthen organizations of all sizes and in every industry.

    Below are a couple ideas I shared during the event that are near and dear to my heart. (To watch the entire presentation, check out the recording on YouTube.)

    Encourage Personal Development Plans
    Employees who are not engaged and growing professionally not only challenge an organization’s ability to innovate and grow; they can be incredibly damaging to the business. A Gallop poll found nearly half of employees are disengaged. Another 18 percent are actively disengaged, meaning they are purposefully undermining their coworkers and sabotaging projects.

    At Coopera, we have found that one successful business practice to help avoid this situation is to ensure all employees have personal development plans. These plans are not complicated. We have a simple template with three sections:

    ● Objectives employees want to accomplish
    ● Strengths they want to work on
    ● How they’re going to accomplish it and by when

    As leaders, in addition to having our own personal development plans, our roles are to make sure employees are accountable to their plans, help them find the resources they need to accomplish their objectives and coach along the way to help them renew their goals. Resources can include anything from internal and online trainings to live events and mentorship opportunities.

    Champion Inclusion
    Our nation’s workforce is undergoing a rapid and significant transformation. We are more ethnically and racially diverse than ever before. And the verdict is in: As we look at studies, diversity and inclusion in the workplace benefit the bottom line of any organization.

    As the world becomes more multicultural, and the more untapped and underserved markets emerge, it’s essential to be more representative of the constituents we serve. No matter how small or large an organization, there are simple ways to champion inclusion every day:

    ● Ask questions. Challenge the status quo.
    ● Promote diversity with your suppliers, vendors and partners. For example, break the mold by bringing in caterers that represent different parts of your community.
    ● Celebrate differences. We just entered National Hispanic Heritage Month. This celebration and others like it are great opportunities to provide information about cultural and ethnic differences.
    ● Think about the underrepresented and emerging populations within your community. Is there an opportunity to provide them with more access to your services?

    For more ideas and inspiration, check out the 2017 90 Ideas in 90 Minutes e-book and videos.

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    Keeping Lending Products Accessible for Hispanic Borrowers

    Posted by on August 7, 2017

    By making a few key adjustments to your traditional lending products, you can make inroads with an entire segment of Hispanic borrowers looking for your services.

    It’s no surprise that the Hispanic segment of the U.S. population is growing, increasing from 17 percent of the population in 2015 to an expected 29 percent in 2020 (according to U.S. Census figures). With that increase comes a growing demand for culturally-appropriate lending services, which is an exciting opportunity for credit unions looking to grow Hispanic memberships.

    Access to credit is a key stepping stone for many Hispanic families, opening the door to greater financial and economic stability. Small-dollar loans also are a necessity for many Hispanic individuals, particularly those looking for financial help in completing the immigration and naturalization process. Without assistance, the application and processing fees associated with filing for U.S. permanent residency or U.S. citizenship can be out of reach for many immigrants.

    By keeping a few key factors in mind when designing lending products, credit unions can expand the reach of their offerings to connect with Hispanic members and create lasting relationships.

    Affordable products

    Product affordability is key for many Hispanic members. Keeping application fees low (or non-existent) and capping interest rates to keep monthly payments affordable will make lending products more appealing to multiple segments within the larger Hispanic community.

    Redefine creditworthiness

    Hispanic immigrants and other non-U.S. citizens may not always fit the traditional “borrower” profile. Yet, members of this segment can become loyal, profitable members. Instead of turning to traditional tools like a FICO score, consider looking at things like rent or telephone payment histories. Available through services like LexisNexis or Clarity, these alternative credit indicators can provide your lending team a view of a potential borrower’s ability to meet financial obligations.

    Cultural competence

    Some Hispanic segments prefer to speak in their native language when discussing complex and personal things like finances. Having bilingual staff and materials is key to helping your Hispanic members, particularly those new to the cooperative, understand the associated fees and requirements for lending products, and to feel more confident in their financial decisions.

    By adjusting a few elements of your traditional lending process and products, you can better connect with Hispanic borrowers and create mutually beneficial and long-term relationships that drive growth. If you’d like more information on how Coopera’s staff can help you do that, please let us know.

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    Growing Number of Hispanic College Students Need Financial Services; Are You Ready for Them?

    Posted by on June 8, 2017

    In just a few years, more than half of college students will be part of a minority race or ethnic group. That means they’ll need financial services from credit unions that understand their unique backgrounds and needs.

    gradIt’s graduation season all across the country. Thousands of students are donning caps and gowns, and thinking about what’s coming next in their educational and career plans. And the changing demographics of America’s population means more of those students are coming from Hispanic families.

    By 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates more than half of the nation’s children will be part of a minority race or ethnic group. That means an increasing number of students heading to colleges and universities in the coming decade will be from Hispanic communities. What’s more, the graduation rates for Hispanic students are on the rise, and many minority students are opting to continue their education at community colleges close to their homes.

    This growing number of Hispanic students represents a tremendous opportunity for credit unions that want to help them reach their educational goals and successfully manage their finances long after graduation day.

    How are you preparing your credit union for the increasing numbers of Hispanic college students in your communities? Here are a few suggestions on products, as well as cultural readiness to serve this influential segment of young people:

    Student loans with affordable rates and repayment plans can help many Hispanic students bridge the gap between the funds they and their families can provide and what colleges require.

    Students balancing the demands of family, work and school can benefit from money management tools like online and mobile banking, checking accounts tailored to their needs and low-interest credit cards.

    And for Hispanic students, partnering with a credit union with particular expertise in the cultural nuances of the community (like those who’ve earned the Juntos Avanzamos designation) can be incredibly valuable. The designation means the student will get the financial tools and education they need from credit unions that understand how to deliver products and services in ways that truly connect with Hispanic students and their families. For example Hispanic students will most likely be bilingual and able to connect with CU staff in either Spanish or English; their families, however, may need Spanish-speaking staff to help them understand their financial planning options and make the best use of a CU’s products and services.

    By connecting with Hispanic students and helping them reach their educational and career goals, credit unions can strengthen their ties with their communities and create long-lasting relationships with those students as their financial needs grow and change. And it certainly doesn’t take an advanced degree to know that’s a combination that benefits everyone.

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    Whirlwind Awareness Tour at CUNA’s GAC

    Posted by on March 21, 2017

    We’re fresh off another exhilarating CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference. It was a terrific conference with what I believe was record attendance! While in the nation’s capital for the event, we were lucky enough to chat with several credit union leaders about the value and importance of serving the Hispanic financial consumer.

    As part of our whirlwind awareness tour, I got the chance to talk with CU Broadcast host Mike Lawson. We discussed quite a few things, including growth of the Hispanic population in places people may not expect. Credit unions in the Midwest, for example, are finding an explosion of the multi-faceted Hispanic communities in their areas to be a clear call to action.

    Take a listen to the conversation at CUBroadcast.com and download our white paper, “Hispanic Growth Strategies Not Just for ‘Gateway States’ Anymore.” Then, get in touch. I’d love to hear your impressions, as well as where your credit union is on its own path to better serving this influential and growing group of community members.

     

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    Anti-Immigration Proposals Work against Economic Growth Goals

    Posted by on February 21, 2017

    Reproduced below is a Letter to the Editor sent to credit union industry press from the Federation, Coopera and the Network of Latino Credit Unions and Professionals (NLCUP).

    If nothing else, the tumultuous 2016 election year revealed the extent to which American working families are struggling. More than 40 percent of American jobs today pay less than $15 an hour, and most of these low-wage jobs lack important benefits such as paid leave, health insurance or retirement. Low-income wage earners are no longer a small demographic relegated to select neighborhoods and geographies – they constitute a significant demographic block.

    America is a country of immigrants. In the US, there are currently 46 million immigrants, representing 13% of the US population, or 1 out of 8 residents. Far from representing an economic burden, immigrants contribute greatly to our local economies by paying taxes, establishing small businesses, and creating jobs.

    Numerous economists argue for the long-term economic need for robust immigration. Citing an aging native-born workforce, contributions to the tax base and job creation from immigrant entrepreneurs and businesses, progressive immigration policy is actually an important way to grow the economy. Immigrant workers make a significant contribution to government revenue. Undocumented immigrants collectively pay an estimated $11.64 billion dollars each year in state and local taxes. In Iowa alone, undocumented immigrants contributed $37.4 million in state and local taxes each year, according to the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy.

    Immigrants start small businesses and create jobs. Though they made up over 13 percent of the total U.S. population in 2014, immigrants represented almost 21 percent of our country’s entrepreneurs. In fact, according to the Kauffman Foundation, immigrants were almost twice as likely as the native-born population to start new businesses in 2015. These businesses created millions of jobs. In 2016, 40 percent of Fortune 500 firms had at least one immigrant founder or a founder who was the child of immigrants.

    Serving immigrants is part of the history of the credit union movement, and a key opportunity for credit union growth. Immigrant members of community development credit unions (CDCUs) report strong loyalty to their credit unions, in many cases indicating the credit union as the only place they choose to do their banking. According to a joint CUNA-Coopera study, credit unions that have strategically invested in outreach to the Hispanic community, for instance, report faster loan growth and accelerated membership.

    For this reason, the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions (the Federation), Coopera and the Network of Latino Credit Unions and Professionals (NLCUP) are working together with key industry partners to grow and expand the Juntos Avanzamos Initiative. Juntos Avanzamos – Together We Advance – is a designation for credit unions committed to serving and empowering both U.S. born and immigrant Hispanic consumers. Immigrants are a large and vibrant part of our communities and a key audience in the low- and moderate-income communities that Community Development Credit Unions (CDCUs) serve.

    Today there are 65 Juntos Avanzamos designated credit unions around the country meeting the tremendous demand in the immigrant market for safe and responsible loans and financial services. These institutions have demonstrated that serving immigrants is both a sustainable business strategy and vital to fulfilling our collective goal of helping people of modest means achieve financial independence. Designations are made based upon an application with a rigorous scoring system that grades credit union performance that considers membership served, products and services targeting Latino immigrants, bilingual and bi-cultural operations and staffing, bi-cultural leadership on the board and management team, and bilingual marketing, messaging and signage.

    The Federation is now working with network partners to become centers of information (“Know Your Rights”) and referrals for free legal and social service providers. Juntos Avanzamos is transforming credit unions from institutions that serve a community into community centers able to organize, communicate and support immigrant wage-earners, families, young people and seniors.

    At this time, it is critical that immigrants know their credit unions are here for them. Once a member, always a member!

     

     

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    3 Steps to Ensure Inclusivity is Not a Fad

    Posted by on January 24, 2017

    Financial inclusivity as a growth strategy is quickly gaining traction in the community banking space. In fact, the trend recently garnered the attention of the hugely popular, national financial advice site Nerd Wallet.

    Writer Juan Castillo reported:

    Hispanics in the U.S. have long been known as “the sleeping giant” for their potential as a substantial and still-growing voting bloc. Now, some in the financial services industry are getting serious about targeting Hispanics — and Hispanic millennials in particular — as a prime source for market growth.

    As the concept of reaching out to fast-growing markets like the Hispanic segment earns wider interest, it will be important for financial institutions to adhere to the fundamentals before going “all-in.” This will prevent staff from viewing the strategy as a fad and help them to see it as a part of the financial institution’s long-term plan.

    There are essential first steps that must be taken on the front-end of any financial inclusion strategy, particularly when the credit union or community bank is targeting a segment of people new to mainstream banking.

    Step One: Build the Right Organizational Mentality

    Financial institution leaders must communicate the philosophical and business imperatives of serving a new market to build buy-in at all levels of the organization from frontline staff and management to board members and C-suite executives.

    Step Two: Adapt to the Market

    Do not expect the people you want to serve to adapt to you. Develop a comprehensive plan for how you will improve processes and products, as well as train employees and prepare your branches.

    Step Three: Create a Strategic Plan

    Define your opportunities and challenges with an eye to your specific local communities. What does the market look like in your city? Are there nuances across age, geography, acculturation factors? Create a roadmap encompassing groundwork, personnel training, product adaptation/development, processes and marketing. Set ongoing measurements and continue to nurture that all-important staff buy-in with frequent updates on milestones and wins.

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    Juntos Avanzamos Lives Up to Its ‘Together We Advance’ Meaning

    Posted by on December 5, 2016

    More credit union people than ever before are talking about Juntos Avanzamos, the national designation awarded to U.S. credit unions making a strategic effort to serve the Hispanic community. The designation was initially developed by the Cornerstone Credit Union League in the states of Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma and has now been rolled out nationally by the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions (Federation).

    A big reason for all the chatter is the program’s explosive growth. Just 15 months after the program went national, 32 more credit unions in 15 states have earned the designation. By the end of 2017, the program is expected to reach 100 credit unions in 20 states.

    juntos-celebration

    A spirited evening organized by the Federation and the Consulate General of Mexico.

    Coopera, along with many national league partners and the Federation, recently celebrated this growth at the Consulate General of Mexico in Dallas, Texas. It was a spirited evening organized by the Federation and the Consulate during which passionate credit union folks all came together to recognize the connections being built between credit unions and the youngest and fastest-growing consumer segment in the U.S.

    Cervera Company dancers performed for attendees.

    Cervera Company dancers performed for attendees.

    The event was part of CUNA’s Community Credit Union Conference and the Federation’s Annual Conference, at which I was also honored to sit on a panel with Francisco de la Torre Galindo, General Consul, Mexico General Consulate. Before an audience of credit unions from across the country (many of which were CDFI certified or low-income designated), we talked about the growing network of Juntos Avanzamos credit unions. Among the specifics we discussed were…

    How credit unions can partner with the Mexican Consulate to further provide accessible financial services to Mexican nationals.

    The various resources offered by the Mexican Consulate to Mexican nationals.

    The demographics of the market and how Hispanics continue to be one of the largest, fastest-growing, youngest and most financially untapped markets in the U.S.

    Overcoming common concerns related to opening accounts for foreign nationals and offering loans to individuals with individual taxpayer identification numbers (ITINs).

    How to develop a strategy to serve the Hispanic community for those that are looking to expand into this market. Success stories of Juntos Avanzamos-designated credit unions.

    We are committed to keeping the Juntos Avanzamos ball rolling. We will continue the conversation at a special roundtable at CUNA’s GAC Conference on February 28, 2017 (more details soon). Please also remember the Network of Latino Credit Unions and Professionals (NLCUP) is hosting its annual network reception at the National Press Club from noon to 2:00 p.m. that same day. Juntos Avanzamos will have a big spotlight shone at it at our industry’s most important conference!

    Visit the Federation’s website for more information about the Juntos Avanzamos designation.

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    Payments Offer ‘Natural Place to Start’ with Multicultural Strategy

    Posted by on September 13, 2016

    Today, one in six consumers is Hispanic. By 2030, it’s anticipated that statistic will rise to one in three. This rapid growth is one of several potentially disruptive trends creating a need for businesses of all types to shift how they think about serving multicultural consumers.

    As the buying power of the Hispanic market alone eclipses $1.2 trillion annually, marketers and other strategists are working diligently to attract this influential segment to their brands. Consider U.S. financial and insurance companies like Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase and Nationwide. In 2014, this business category spent a total of $352 million on Hispanic media. It’s clear these brands understand the value of the Hispanic market and are investing in smart segmentation strategies to make the most of its potential.

    Beyond the Hispanic market, however, we see other cultures beginning to emerge as important to U.S. business. Many kinds of businesses are adopting a total market strategy in which multicultural segments are incorporated under a comprehensive consumer plan. Examples include Coca Cola and Western Union. Each has created diverse language communications, based on a genuine understanding of the cultural nuances within their vast and diverse marketplaces. Each of these brands works hard to position its products and services as vital to the happy lives of global consumers.

    Marketers and other leaders recognize that emerging multicultural markets are best served by strategies that go far beyond merely translating communications. That’s because multicultural consumers are insightful; they are also not afraid to turn away from brands that don’t “get it.” They will easily ignore products and services they don’t believe genuinely embrace their essence.

    DSC_0279

    Talking payments alongside Todd Link of Dupaco Credit Union at the 2016 TMG Executive Summit in Nashville

    For financial institutions in particular, payments products lend themselves well to a multicultural strategy. In fact, the topic was one I had the pleasure of discussing with financial institutions at this year’s TMG Executive Summit during the Future of Payments Panel session. Here’s a look at a few trending payment options and some insight about their prevalence among the Hispanic population specifically.

    Debit Cards

    The perception that “debit cards are dead” couldn’t be further from true among Hispanics. They are a prime target market for debit products.

    From 1992 to 2012, debit cards were the first overall choice among consumers. And while that’s changed for non-Hispanics, a Nielsen’s Share of Wallet study found Hispanics do differ from the national average somewhat when it comes to actual usage of their financial instruments. Forty-four percent use debit cards most often, while another 34 percent prefer cash or check. Only 19 percent use credit cards most often, compared to 35 percent nationally. The preference for debit and prepaid cards applies whether Hispanics are banked, unbanked, native or foreign-born, millennials or Generation Xers, consumers or business owners.

    Bitcoin

    New payment options beyond debit, cash and credit are beginning to compete for walletshare. Although cheaper and faster forms of payment targeting the unbanked (some in the form of international blockchain companies and Bitcoin providers) are making some inroads, it’s doubtful this alternative currency or the technology that enables it will replace Western Union-type providers in a fatal swoop. Most Hispanic consumers who send money abroad are happy with current non-traditional finance industry providers. They’re also tech savvy. More Hispanics than non-Hispanics own a smartphone and use it to conduct financial transactions.

    PayPal & Mobile Wallets

    Just how tech savvy are Hispanics? Consider the following: According to the TD Bank Checking Experience Index, Google Wallet, Pop Money, Venmo, PayPal, SquareCash and other services are important among Latinos. Nearly half of Latino respondents surveyed by the index indicated they used PayPal within the last three months to send money to peers, citing ease of use and convenience. These consumers also made 22 percent of all mobile payments in 2014 (16 percent of the U.S. consumer base today).

    What’s more, at least 85 percent of Hispanics in the U.S. have mobile phones compared to 88 percent of non-Hispanic whites. However, 82 percent of Hispanic mobile phone users have a smartphone, compared to 68 percent of non-Hispanic whites. Hispanic mobile users with bank accounts show a higher rate of use of mobile-banking relative to mobile phone users with bank accounts overall. They make transactions, pay bills at least weekly and send money internationally with their smartphones.

    Prepaid Cards

    According to the Federal Reserve, prepaid cards are the fastest growing form of non-cash payments. They are cost-effective, flexible and easy to use for consumers, governments and businesses. A lot of innovation exists from specialized providers more so than traditional financial institutions.

    Importantly for multicultural payment strategies, federal regulators are working to ensure language barriers don’t prevent non-English speaking consumers from having a good experience. The more prepaid providers are incentivized to meet the needs of an ever-changing and multicultural market, the better prepaid cards will become as a viable alternative to debit and credit cards.

    The variety of payment options available to today’s consumers creates a terrific opportunity for both financial institutions and consumers. Credit unions, in particular, should continue developing a deeper understanding of multicultural member needs and behaviors to effectively reach new consumers. Payments, with their increasing emphasis on mobility and innovation, are a natural place to start.

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    Watch for the Word ‘Half’ in Hispanic Consumer Studies

    Posted by on August 25, 2016

    As the child of Mexican immigrants, I grew up in a household that was unique in many ways from those of my friends and peers. One of the differences was that my parents paid bills, saved money and accessed credit outside the traditional financial system. Hindsight being what it is, I can now see how much of an influence those financial choices had on my eventual career path.

    Although it came with challenges, my non-traditional American childhood absolutely empowered me. Today, I feel so fortunate to be living out my passion – introducing more Hispanic consumers to the life-changing benefits of becoming a credit union member.

    What’s equally exciting to me is introducing more organizations to benefits of serving Hispanic consumers. As I travel the country, talking with credit unions, colleges and other consumer-centric organizations, I’m learning so much about how perceptions continue to shape reality.

    One of the perceptions that Coopera colleagues and I are working hard to reshape is this idea the Hispanic market is homogenous. In fact, there are many nuances to the culture. Let’s take a look at a few…

    Acculturation, Language & Immigration Spectrums

    Acculturation describes how quickly an individual or set of individuals adopts the behaviors, beliefs/values and attitudes of a new culture in addition to their native culture. The spectrum goes from un-acculturated through semi-acculturated to fully acculturated.

    It’s critically important for marketers and others to understand where their target market resides on the spectrum. For instance, a credit union that believes it is best suited to serving semi- or fully acculturated Hispanics will want to know members of these two segments prefer TV and print media outlets, while radio is important for the un-acculturated. In terms of product development, credit cards are common among fully acculturated Hispanics, but that is far from true for un-acculturated individuals.

    In addition to behaviors, values and attitudes, there’s also a spectrum of language preferences that vary from Spanish to bilingual to English. Immigration status, too, changes from recent arrival to established resident to U.S. born. All of these characteristics and preferences impact the way Hispanic consumers value (or don’t value) financial services to the quality of their lives.

    Financial Attitudes and Behaviors

    There is tremendous opportunity for credit unions to foster trust and expand the financial education of some Hispanic community segments. Saving for retirement, seeking financial advice, long-term goals, personal debt and financial confidence are areas that require special concentration across segments of the Hispanic market. Here again, however, there are differences between groups within the culture.

    This is why it’s so important to view the results of national studies, surveys and indexes with a grain of salt. Take, for instance, an extensive study of more than 1,000 Hispanic individuals between 25 – 70 with incomes of $25K or higher.

    Here are just a few of the findings from that particular national study:

    –More than half indicated a poor or very poor understanding of workplace-based retirement plans.

    –Half of respondents expressed a preference for Spanish communication and materials.

    –Respondents with lower incomes and those born outside of the U.S. place higher priority on funding near-term goals such as education for their children.

    When reviewing national studies, be mindful of the word “half.” Let it serve as a reminder of the great diversity that lies within the U.S. Hispanic community. If a particular study finds half of its respondents prefer Spanish, for instance, that could mean the other half did not.

    The biggest take away: It’s critically important to understand your local market needs. Like much of the general population, Hispanic consumers strive to improve their financial situation. At the same time, acculturation, language, immigration status and other characteristics such as age, income and country of birth, have a huge influence on how that value is applied day-to-day.

    While the Hispanic population continues to grow, it will continue to change. As you approach strategic planning season, consider whether your credit union could benefit from a local market study of the influential Hispanic consumers in the communities you serve.

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    Post Offices Could Be Credit Unions’ Next Competitors

    Posted by on July 5, 2016

    IMG_2377

    Here I am at 9 years old!

    When I was a young girl in the U.S., my parents – both born in Mexico – visited the local U.S. Postal Service (USPS) office to do more than buy stamps and mail packages; they also bought money orders. Without a banking relationship in our community, my parents considered the post office to be a dependable and acceptable way for them to conduct these specific financial transactions.

    Today, as an adult and a strong advocate of the credit union movement, I find myself reflecting on my family’s experience. My parents bought money orders at the post office because it was convenient, reasonably priced and they weren’t asked a lot of questions. Simply stated: The post office fulfilled a simple need.

    What if the post office had offered other financial services? Services similar to those offered by today’s credit unions? Would they have chosen to use those services?

    The changing landscape of financial services, coupled with struggles faced by the USPS, is creating what could be perceived by credit unions as an unsettling reality: Competition from post offices, especially among minority populations, is a real threat.

    Consider the following:

    Financial institutions have closed about 1,900 branches over the last few years, leaving many low-income neighborhoods without a place to conduct banking. As a result, non-traditional financial entities that levy huge fees, such as payday and cash lenders, have become go-to spots for many who live in these areas.

    At the same time, the USPS delivers more mail to more addresses in a larger geographical area than any other post in the world. It handles 40 percent of the world’s mail volume to more than 151 million homes. But in the age of technology, it struggles to keep up. First-class mail volumes continue to drop, and billions of dollars in net loss just this year threaten the livelihood of this “national treasure.” Post offices in rural communities across the country have experienced closures and reduced hours in recent years.

    To recalibrate and create relevancy, the USPS is considering various ideas to leverage interest and loyalty from financially underserved communities, which includes Hispanics, the youngest, fastest-growing minority group in the U.S. One of its ideas capitalizes on continuing interest in e-commerce. The other is centered on postal banking. Their goal is to make check-cashing and other basic financial services part of their product/service mix.

    The very approach my parents relied on when I was a child is what may challenge the entire community financial institution industry.

    The USPS may be able to offer financial services, such as electronic money orders, bill payments, surcharge-free ATMs and affordable microloans, at a lower cost than credit unions. It’s also well-positioned to serve those who are currently underserved for several reasons. Among them:

    • There are offices in most communities
    • They have a trusted reputation
    • They can operate at a loss
    • Democratic Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, along with numerous community activists, support the USPS efforts to serve the financially underserved.

    Once an idea is more thoroughly understood, it’s easier to take a proactive approach. Knowledge can be leveraged; ideas exchanged. Consider the following questions: Can credit unions compete if post offices transition into financial services locations? Can they effectively connect with and earn the trust of underserved communities? Is it feasible for credit unions to develop personalized products?

    Without hesitation, I believe the answer is “Yes!” to all of the above. You may be wondering why I’m so optimistic.

    Credit unions have long prided themselves on knowing their members and potential members. They already provide consumers an alternative financial route to traditional banks. So, targeting consumers who do not want a relationship with a “mega bank” is already in the wheelhouses of U.S. cooperatives.

    Currently, more than 100 million Americans are using credit unions. According to the World Council of Credit Unions’ annual Statistical Report survey, global credit union membership grew by an additional 10 million people in 2014. Growth resulted for various reasons:

    • Credit union loans are more accessible to low-income buyers and to those recovering from poor credit ratings.
    • Aggressive first-time buyer programs for weary and inexperienced millennials are being offered by credit unions of all sizes.
    • They generally offer lower interest rates, especially for post-graduation debt management.

    All that said, staying ahead of the competition requires getting creative. Three ideas comes to mind:

    • Increase your loan pool – Given that immigrants and millennials represent a sizable chunk of the financially underserved, build a stronger community and digital presence to let them know you want their business.
    • Make social networks work for you – With so many platforms available to communicate with audiences, taking a more active role on such sites allows broader reach among target audiences.
    • Build upon current differentiators – Think about the attributes that make credit unions appealing and accessible and combine them with the financial needs of your local market. Design measurable marketing tactics around that brand model and proactively develop products that are culturally relevant.

    Without question, it’s preferable to be in a position to choose one’s response vs. being in reactionary mode. Keeping a watchful and curious eye out for what’s transpiring with the USPS will empower credit unions to be at the forefront of growth trends.

    It’s said wisdom comes with age. I’ve come to understand that when acclimating to anything new (much like my parents did when they arrived in the U.S.), it’s liberating to have alternatives. Being limited to one way of accomplishing something feels constricting. I’m confident had a credit union been an option for my parents, they would’ve felt welcomed, connected and understood the endless possibilities that occur with strategic financial guidance.

    Instinct and experience tells me there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other immigrants interested in achieving their definition of financial success. The benefit of a credit union partner that proactively asks questions so as to guide members along the path of their entire financial journey – from selecting what types of accounts to open to planning for significant milestones such as college or a new home – is priceless. So is the peace of mind that comes with it. I know. I’ve walked in those shoes.

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