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  • University Puts Itself Under the Inclusion Microscope

    Posted by on April 7, 2016

    isu (2)My alma mater, Iowa State University (ISU), has begun to examine how it can improve diversity and inclusion among its students and staff. Naturally, it’s an initiative about which our entire team is excited and happy to support however we can.

    This spring, I had the terrific opportunity to share my student experience at ISU, as well as my thoughts on how the university can become even better at supporting multi-cultural students and staff. What follows is an excerpt of the article I contributed to the university’s alumni publication, Visions.

    This particular issue is packed with insights from other passionate ISU supporters and students. Many of their thoughts are applicable to the credit union environment, as well. So, if you have a few minutes and are curious as to the ways in which multi-cultural consumers experience different facets of their life at different stages of their journey, I’d encourage you to give it a read.

    My quest toward a college degree was far from a given for me. As the daughter of foreign-born parents who hadn’t attended college in Mexico nor the U.S., I knew it was up to me to own the responsibility. I was fortunate to have friends and advisors at Perry (Iowa) High School to guide me through the entrance exam, application and financial aid processes. Together, we navigated what could otherwise have been a long, confusing road. 

    I’m sharing this story because I believe it’s an experience shared by many first generation Latino Iowans. 

    I’m filled with gratitude as I as I think about ISU’s courage in choosing to ask the question: How can we be better [at attracting and serving Latino students]?” Imagine ISU as the premier four-year university attracting, retaining and graduating young, influential multi-cultural students.

    Even though more multi-cultural students are attending college than ever before, they tend to choose two-year degree programs because they attend school part-time, live outside campus and have outside responsibilities (such as providing and caring for family members). If this dynamic is altered and multi-cultural students begin to feel part of a larger whole, I believe they, along with their families, will create thriving communities that perpetuate growth and change across the state and nationwide.

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    Hispanics Own Credit Cards, But Prefer Other Payment Methods

    Posted by on February 18, 2016

    While more than a third of U.S. consumers use credit cards most often to make purchases, just 19 percent of U.S. Hispanics do the same. That is not to say members of this growing and increasingly influential minority group do not own credit cards. In fact, nearly 60 percent have one in their wallets.

    Why, then, do Hispanic credit cardholders appear to prefer other methods of payment, such as cash and debit cards?

    It’s an issue I’ve studied for several years as part of an Affiliates Management Company work group. The group counts Corey Skadburg, a credit card expert and the director of credit and risk for Coopera sister company TMG Financial Services, among its members.

    TMG Financial Services Director of Credit & Risk Corey Skadburg

    TMG Financial Services Director of Credit & Risk Corey Skadburg

    “The majority of credit card products on the market today are not geared toward the specific needs of the Hispanic market, particularly for those individuals who may not have traditional credit or for whom fees are a major turn off,” Skadburg said. “It’s easy to see how that lack of focused attention and customization can feed an apathetic relationship. But this is a market the industry simply can’t ignore. We expect to see more credit cards issuers – both large and small – funnel increased resources toward getting it right with Hispanic cardholders in 2016.”

    As Coopera has advised work groups, steering committees and industry associations, it’s important to recognize the Hispanic market is multifaceted. We know, for instance, not all Hispanic consumers lack traditional credit. We know there are niche and subgroups who all want different things from their financial products, including credit cards. This will be an important consideration as the credit union and other card-issuing industries evolve to serve Hispanic consumers.

    Looking ahead, it’s possible we may see Hispanic consumers who own a credit card become more active as digital wallets (at least those powered by credit cards) become more popular. That’s because Hispanic consumers tend to over-index on all things mobile. Many are mobile banking users and a sizable percentage say they have used mobile payments in the last 12 months. As Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay are accepted in more places, we may see more Hispanic credit cardholders activate, use and become increasingly loyal to their cards, albeit through a completely separate brand. Of course, credit cards are not the only payment method available to mobile payment users, so it will be interesting to see how Hispanic consumers, in particular, chose to configure their digital wallets.

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    Hispanic Businesses are ‘First and Foremost’ American Businesses

    Posted by on February 4, 2016

    americanEntrepreneurialism and a solid work ethic are strong tenets of the Hispanic culture. Given these characteristics, it’s no surprise the number of Hispanic-owned businesses in the U.S. has expanded as rapidly as it has. Since 2007, these firms have grown an astounding 57 percent to more than 4 million.

    Like most small businesspeople, Hispanic leaders need strong guidance, both financial and otherwise, to achieve and maintain success. The potential to increase business revenues is seen in the fact Hispanic-owned businesses have a tendency to generate average annual incomes well below the average in the U.S. (even below the average for minority-owned businesses).

    Credit unions, particularly those focused on the growth of their Hispanic memberships, are well-positioned to provide this guidance. That’s because many of the cooperatives that are planning – maybe even executing – strategies to attract Hispanic consumers are already on track to serve the community’s business owners.

    Hispanics account for one out of every five new entrepreneurs in the U.S. Entrepreneurs rely heavily on financial services. Yet, credit unions will do well to consider creating programs that go beyond business loans and other financial products to help business owners optimize operations and grow their firms. Consider solutions that reduce business expenses, such as payroll costs, for example. Offering the employees of Hispanic businesses payroll direct deposit to checking accounts or to prepaid reloadable cards will help the owner eliminate payroll check printing and will provide employees more access to their money. This type of a program can be mutually beneficial, as the business saves time and money while the credit union establishes potentially long-term relationships with its employees.

    Like any new product or service offering, the development of Hispanic business solutions should start with research and data analytics. This will allow the credit union’s product development team to segment the market and provide truly valuable, highly customized services. Start with your existing Hispanic members. You may be surprised to learn how many are business owners who may also be willing to help the credit union better understand their needs.

    As your research is underway, begin to build relationships with local organizations that already serve Hispanic entrepreneurs and small businesses, such as Hispanic chambers of commerce. Your credit union can work in conjunction with these organizations to provide a much-needed service, connect with the community and begin to build trust.

    Once you have a better understanding of the make-up, needs and behaviors of the local Hispanic business community, come back to your own capabilities. Evaluate your existing business and consumer service offerings to see where they fall short or how they may be adapted to the Hispanic business owner. Evolving your products, rather than expecting Hispanic members to adapt to them, is critical for success with this market.

    Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, says Hispanic businesses are first and foremost American businesses. “Every tax bill we pay, every job we create, every product we manufacture and every service we provide goes to benefit our nation’s economy,” he wrote. And those businesses will do so to the tune of $660 billion this year.

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    Knocking Over the First Domino with Great Service to Hispanic Millennials

    Posted by on December 16, 2015

    Kenia Calderon

    Kenia Calderon

    Relationship marketing, the pursuit of long-term engagement rather than short-term sales, has been called a game-changing marketing trend for 2016. Credit union leaders may find that a bit amusing, given “relationship marketing” is less of a trend, more a way of life, within the movement.

    What more credit unions are learning, however, is this deeply rooted competency for relationship building is better suited to some consumer segments than to others. As certain financial products become commodities for some individuals, they remain coveted, potentially life-changing, services for others.

    Take Kenia Calderon, for example. The 21-year-old El Salvador native has been in the U.S. for nearly 10 years. After what she describes as a bad experience with a major U.S. bank, she watched her parents pull out of the U.S. financial system altogether. Today, the double-major university student and president of her school’s Latino student group manages her entire family’s finances with the help of Village Credit Union in Des Moines, Iowa.

    “Serving the Latino community is hot these days,” said Calderon. “But for most big companies, that’s because they see dollar signs. My credit union put humanity ahead of profit. By helping me and my family better our lives, they have impacted generations to come. It’s a domino effect. In my family alone, we will have three college graduates leaving school debt-free thanks to the help of Village Credit Union.”

    Earning the business of more Millennials like Calderon – the second largest Hispanic demographic in the country – may require a new way of thinking for U.S. industry. For credit unions, though, it’s about getting back to the basics of building mutually beneficial relationships, albeit with a twist.

    Young Hispanic consumers have some unique, and somewhat conflicting, tastes. For instance:

    • While face-to-face is important, digital access is critical.
    • While they speak Spanish, they also speak English.
    • While savings and loans are huge, everyday services are just as vital.

    For more on each of the above, see our article in the December issue of Credit Union Business.

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    Unbanked Hispanics Aren’t Being Courted by Banks

    Posted by on December 9, 2015

    Photo courtesy of CUToday.info

    Photo courtesy of CUToday.info

    Last week, I had the pleasure of serving as a panelist during a nationally-televised event. Hosted by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), the event brought together several credit union industry leaders to discuss strategies for improving financial service to Hispanic consumers. Rounding out the panel were Maria Martinez, president and chief executive officer of Border Federal Credit Union and co-chair of the Network of Latino Credit Unions and Professionals; Robert Peterson, president and chief executive officer of One Source Federal Credit Union;and Sergio Osuna, a supervisory examiner with NCUA’s Region V office.

    Watch a recording of the event.

    Before both a live and a streaming audience of more than 200 individuals, I had the opportunity to share some of my own family’s story to illustrate the challenges credit unions may face as they look to execute financial inclusion strategies.

    First Build Trust

    Among the issues we discussed is unbanked, first-generation Hispanics simply aren’t being courted by traditional financial institutions. My family and I belonged to this group. My parents were intimidated by banks. We came from Mexico, and like many other Latin American countries, banks there tended to cater only to the wealthy.

    My parents were used to dealing in cash, so that’s what made sense when we came to the U.S. Others in our community only used check-cashers and paid bills with money orders. They obtained these services from providers that asked few questions, were open around the clock and had personnel that spoke Spanish and shared similar backgrounds.

    Another element we discussed during the event is that credit unions looking to serve this young, influential and fast-growing consumer segment to first build trust. Show the community you not only want their business, but that you are willing to invest in the success of the community. Employ people like those you want to serve; elevate them to board and other leadership positions; get involved in local groups, organizations and agencies that exist to better the lives of Hispanic people.

    Chose the Right Products & Services

    As for products and services credit unions should consider adding to better serve unbanked, first-generation Hispanic consumers, consider the following:

    Adapt Account Opening Requirements. It’s important for credit unions to accept alternative forms of ID and documentation like the matricula consular and Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), and to determine credit worthiness via alternative methods for those without credit.

    Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) loans. These are young people seeking to further their education, buy homes, apply for credit cards, start businesses. The DACA application fee, however, can be out of reach, especially when multiple family members are going through the process at the same time.

    Immigration loans. Three individuals in my family went through the process at the same time, which forced us to borrow from friends and family to pay for the fees. In some cases, we had to wait to file the applications until we had the money.

    Know the Business Case

    Importantly, we discussed during the NCUA event that there is a strong business case for serving Hispanic communities. To drive this home, I shared some of the results of a 2014 national study Coopera conducted in partnership with the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). The study examined the overall membership growth and financial performance of 86 credit unions across the country, each of which had implemented a Hispanic growth strategy. Among these credit unions:

    Overall membership growth accelerated by 3 percentage points from pre to post program implementation, from 2 to 5 percent.

    Loan growth accelerated from 5 to nearly 9 percent in the third year after implementation of the program, and loan delinquency was practically negligent changing from 1.5 to 1.52 percent.

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    Poverty Simulation Inspires Awareness, Empathy among Credit Union Leaders

    Posted by on October 6, 2015


    As part of the poverty simulation, Dora Camargo from Veridian CU experiences applying for social service benefits

    New consumer profiles are emerging as key to the growth of credit unions, including the growing Hispanic market, immigrants, low-income households and Millennials. While the movement’s leaders may clearly see the need to adapt products, services and strategic plans to a new type of member, the resources to do it may not always be there.

    Fortunately, there are programs designed to help, specifically the low income (LI) and community development financial institution (CDFI) designation programs.

    This was one of several insights coming out of a collaborative round-table event we were proud to host alongside the Iowa Credit Union Foundation (ICUF) and the Iowa Credit Union League (ICUL). The topic was building understanding of the financial need of emerging markets and learning about resources available to best serve both existing and prospective members who comprise these critical consumer segments.

    One of the things we discussed during the round table was that all the resources in the world will not help move the needle if credit unions don’t first understand the market they are trying to serve. To this end, attendees had the opportunity to participate in a live poverty simulation. The poverty simulation, or Life Simulation, is designed to help credit union employees, volunteers and leadership begin to understand what it might be like to live in a typical low-income family, one that is trying to survive from month-to-month.

    In the simulation, participants assumed the roles of families whose members are unemployed, homeless, living on disability or raising grandchildren on a fixed income. At the end of the exercise, participants were more aware of the daily realities faced by many American families. In a post-event survey, 100 percent of attendees rated the poverty simulation very good or excellent, and ICUF Executive Director Jaimie Miller says plans are underway to offer the event to more Iowa credit unions in the future.

    One attendee had this to say about the experience: “I was able to take away from the poverty session how frustrating it can be for people trying to find the right places for help. As a credit union professional, I think we can be more empathetic towards these members and also educate ourselves to learn and understand the resources available to them so we can help them even more.”

    The poverty simulation was accompanied by a panel discussion. Our expert panelists included Joann Johnson, superintendent of credit unions in the state of Iowa; John Parks, CEO/manager at Sioux Valley Community Credit Union; Traci Stiles, business development manager at Des Moines Metro Credit Union; and Dale Owen, CEO/president of Ascentra Credit Union. They spoke about benefits of the low income and CDFI designations such as grant funding opportunities and also shared how these designations fit in with their work to better serve their entire field of membership.

    Attendees were surprised to learn many Iowa credit unions, including Des Moines Metro Credit Union and Sioux Valley Community Credit Union, have already earned LI designations.

    They also were excited by the types of programs these credit unions were in the process of developing or had developed thanks to their special statuses. Financial counseling and education, new technology and an expansion of loan programs are helping more cooperatives grow while more consumers find well-intentioned and fair services designed especially for them. In addition, if a credit union has a Hispanic growth program or is looking to start one, these designations can help further those efforts.

    A strategic Hispanic growth program can become an important part of a credit union’s CDFI designation action plan. If we can assist you with the development of such a plan, please get in touch.

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    Focus Groups Help Idaho Credit Union Identify Hyperlocal Issues

    Posted by on July 28, 2015

    Side view of three mid adult people sitting and talking

    Side view of three mid adult people sitting and talking

    An intentional, strategic focus on the Hispanic member experience has become a top priority for Idaho Central Credit Union (ICCU). The cooperative’s home state saw the Hispanic population increase by 17 percent from 2000 to 2010, and several of its 26 branches are located areas rich in Hispanic culture.

    michaelwatson (2)Although the credit union has long worked to translate materials and hire bilingual personnel, there has not been a formal plan in place for actively engaging the Hispanic community and the credit union’s existing Hispanic members. Before developing that plan, however, Marketing Manager Michael Watson wanted to ensure the credit union did its homework.

    “There’s a lot of national research out there specific to the Hispanic consumer to which we could have turned,” said Watson. “Yet, we wanted results specific to our local markets. What may be true for most Hispanics may not be true for the Hispanics in eastern Idaho, for example. We needed to truly understand the unique needs specific to our community members.”

    To do so, Watson worked with Coopera to organize three focus groups, each set in a different area of the ICCU field of membership. The goal was four-fold:

    1. Better understand the financial services experience of local Hispanic communities to help guide strategies for the credit union’s Hispanic growth efforts
    2. Learn how the local Hispanic communities think and feel about financial institutions
    3. Identify cultural nuances within the Hispanic community to assist in better serving these communities
    4. Provide a means of evaluating products and services for the community and how to best communicate those products and services

    Among the many learnings generated by the focus groups, Watson said several stand-outs will shape the way the cooperative’s Hispanic member experience plan is drafted. These include educational and product development opportunities, as well as guidance on how and where to market the credit union’s services. Digital banking, emphasis on family/childcare and strong attention to consistent internal training were other high-priority issues identified through the focus groups.

    Initially, Watson was skeptical about the authenticity of the results if participants knew ICCU was the host of the focus groups. However, he now believes revealing the credit union as the organizer has been beneficial.

    “Sharing that it was ICCU behind the effort allowed us to gain a deeper level of feedback about actual experiences we may not otherwise have gotten,” said Watson. “Additionally, because the participants knew it was us, there is also now an expectation that we use the data to make a difference in their experience. In fact, a couple of our participants said, ‘We’ll be watching.’”

    Watson and the ICCU management welcome this attention, as they look to prove their commitment to serving this important and growing segment of members. More focus groups and a unique plan for ongoing engagement of focus group participants are expected in the near future.

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    3 Must-Haves for Connecting with Hispanic Consumers

    Posted by on May 27, 2015

    Credit unions with strong Hispanic growth programs have three things in common – intention, cultural alignment and an adaptive spirit.


    Cooperatives most successful at earning Hispanic engagement started with a strategic plan to serve this particular community of influencers. Take Arizona’s Vantage West Credit Union, for example. The $1.4 billion institution knew a solid strategic plan had to begin with equally as solid research. Working with Coopera, the cooperative did not stop with demographics alone. The credit union’s leadership worked to identify other factors, such as language preference and product adoption rates. It also used research to determine which of its branches served the most Hispanic members and which had the greatest potential for growth based on population trends.

    Cultural Alignment

    As the number of Hispanic professionals leading the movement becomes a stronger reflection of the country’s population, cultural alignment will become easier. Today, however, it may take work. Building the right organizational mentality and internal culture to serve a new market is absolutely critical. That’s precisely how Travis Credit Union has been so successful at earning the trust of its local Hispanic community. Yet, as Travis’ Sherry Cordonnier points out, building the internal culture may come from outside influences. The $2.3 billion California credit union has learned this first-hand from the impact of its own Hispanic Advisory Committee, made up of 13 Hispanic leaders in the community.

    “On the committee, we have a broad spectrum of individuals who can talk about what it’s like for an immigrant family, or how to talk to the migrant worker, or how to reach out to the educated Hispanic who wants to start a business,” Cordonnier told Credit Union Magazine.

    Adaptive Spirit

    Most credit unions understand their membership strategy must evolve. Those that have developed an achievable plan to actually implement that strategy are stand-outs in Hispanic member growth. These credit unions are adjusting everything from products and departments to marketing and operations to become highly relevant to their new target market.

    River City Federal Credit Union in San Antonio provides an ideal model for this kind of organization-wide evolution. Since beginning its Hispanic outreach initiative, the $131 million credit union has expanded its branch strategy, upgraded core business systems and invested in new electronic services, including bilingual mobile banking.

    That this list of must-haves begins with intention is not a coincidence. It’s the most important component to achieving success in Hispanic growth efforts. The credit unions above have demonstrated excellence within each of the three must-haves for successful Hispanic engagement; but each began with a commitment and the intention to see that commitment through. The same can happen within your cooperative. If you feel a pull for a deeper, more emotional connection with the youngest, fast-growing and most underserved community in your market, gather up a team and begin putting thought to your own intentional growth strategy.

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    Think You Know the Hottest Consumer Market?

    Posted by on April 6, 2015

    The hottest market for credit unions just keeps heating up. Hispanics in America, both U.S. born and immigrant, are on the radar of more credit union CEOs, CMOs and board presidents than ever before. And rightly so. Just look at what’s happening with this critical consumer segment:

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    Gomez: This Is Our Time to Take Action

    Posted by on March 2, 2015

    Federation colleagues and I have been overwhelmed by the terrific response to the financial inclusion campaign, which kicked off in January at the Financial Inclusion for Immigrant Consumers Roundtable held in Los Angeles.

    Ivonet Gomez, marketing manager for USC Credit Union in Los Angeles, was one of more than 50 professionals who attended the event. Following the roundtable, she shared this insight with Coopera:

    Ivonet Gomez, USC Credit Union Marketing Manager

    I thought the roundtable was very well executed and perfectly timed given the government’s new immigration reform. The information provided by all presenters was insightful and helpful.

    I really enjoyed Senator Cedillo’s testimonial and appreciate our city council’s involvement and support of this initiative. I have heard about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) programs before, but I was not aware of the details and upcoming expansion guidelines for these programs before the roundtable presentation. Also it was insightful to learn the Mexican Matricula Consular is now accepted as a valid form of identification at the DMV and other financial institutions. The Mexican Consulate is offering all credit unions a great opportunity to participate and get involve firsthand with those that need our help the most.

    The next steps for our credit union are to plan a Hispanic growth strategy, create new products/services that promote financial inclusion to immigrants through DACA/DAPA, and promote loans with a credit history building purpose and savings component.

    We understand the importance of all credit unions getting involved in this particular moment, when it is key to serve our immigrant community. We will continue to participate and be one of the credit unions that drives, collaborates and implements these initiatives to better serve the underserved communities in Los Angeles. This is our time to take action.

    We couldn’t agree more with Ms. Gomez’s remarks; this is indeed the time for credit unions to show how they differ from other financial institutions and to extend a hand to a population that needs credit unions as much as credit unions need them.

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