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  • Seeing the True Impacts of COVID-19: How Credit Unions Can Support Marginalized Communities

    Posted by on November 3, 2020

    As first seen on cuinsight.com.

    Nearly nine months into what has been one of the most challenging years in our lifetimes, COVID-19 continues to ravage the health, finances and spirits of many. In addition to disrupting everyday life, the novel coronavirus has brought to light long-standing societal and structural problems that especially predispose marginalized communities to dire consequences. One does not need to go far to see the alarming impact that the coronavirus has had on minoritized communities. The American Medical Association (AMA) has published a series of articles on health equity highlighting how some communities will suffer more acutely during the crisis. In terms of personal finance, Pew Research Center finds that economic fallout is hitting people of color the hardest. Mental health is profoundly impacted, especially with a situation that has no immediate end in sight.

    Why are people of color being impacted in greater numbers?

    Black and brown Americans are disproportionately represented in the service sector, where they are among the lowest paid, most likely to be laid off, least likely to be able to engage in work from home, and most likely to be exposed to the virus. New evidence also suggests that Black Americans face higher rates of coronavirus  infection  and  mortality. Similarly, many Hispanics have been deemed essential workers who need to treat the ill, grow produce and stock shelves.

    As noted in a Filene blog post earlier this year, one of the initial ways people talked about the coronavirus was that it “did not discriminate”, that it was an “equalizer” or an “equal-opportunity” threat. We now know that this could not have been further from the truth. Instead, the pandemic has disrobed the ugliness of inequality in the United States. COVID-19 is shining a light on what it means to have less income, less savings, fewer benefits like paid sick leave, and less access to insurance and healthcare.

    Within the credit union community, we see a positive outcome: a renewed attention and support for storied system organizations that for decades have helped with the financial inclusion of marginalized populations in the United States. Even before it was called “DEI”, the African American Credit Union CoalitionInclusiv, the Juntos Avanzamos ProgramNational Association of Latino Credit Unions & Professionals and Coopera had been helping the system understand what it means to “do good by doing well”. And we see the industry crafting new initiatives to support the vast jurisdiction of DEI. Recently Filene created the Center of Excellence for DEI, and Superbia and CU Pride have joined the inclusion effort to bring light to LGBTQ+ community needs. Additionally, a group of credit union partners have organized to create the CU DEI Collective, a collaboration to advance the understanding and adoption of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. I am proud to chair this new initiative.

    This list is by no means all-encompassing, rather, it highlights the growing concern, interest and support for DEI. There is an industry pledge that calls attention and encourages action so that we as a movement commit to change. Has your organization committed to change? This pledge outlines a number of actions to be taken by credit unions on their path toward fulfilling their mission to relentlessly include.

    What other actions can be taken at the state and local levels if you are a member, a leader or a staff member of a credit union?

    At the state level, community-based organizations are natural partners for credit unions. Together, they are deploying educational resources to help with understanding the societal and systemic structures that keep certain populations marginalized. Case in point, the 21-day Challenge from the United Way. Over the 21-day Challenge, you will take a self-guided learning journey that examines the history and impacts of racism and how it shapes people’s lived experiences. Many United Way state chapters are encouraging participation in the challenges.

    At the local level, we see credit unions responding to unique homegrown challenges, depending on the intensity and particular characteristics of the pandemic in their neck of the woods. The cycle that we see spans from crisis management, emergency relief, to staff health, and keeping operations up and running to support members through varying degrees of financial stress.

    As the COVID-19 challenges continue, credit unions should stay focused on connecting and using their mission of inclusion to help ALL, but place a special interest and focus on marginalized and underserved segments of society so they start feeling a sense of belonging. Deliberate action and clarity will guide our movement to achieve it. The “people helping people” stated mission of credit unions has once more become a call to action and motivator to do good. This mission can certainly help in aiding relief amid the wretched 2020 pandemic. Let’s be a force for good.

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    Víctor Discusses Credit Union Pandemic Responses

    Posted by on March 26, 2020

    Is your credit union communicating to members who don’t speak English during the COVID-19 pandemic?

    Here are some resources that can help:

    For additional resources, contact the Coopera team at info@cooperaconsulting.com.

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    Successfully Serving Hispanics is Key to Credit Union Growth

    Posted by on February 3, 2020

    As first seen on cuinsight.com.

    No doubt about it – 2020 promises to be a vibrant, dynamic year, and one favored by a continuing robust economy. Credit unions, like all organizations in the financial space, are primed for financial growth. But credit unions have one advantage that other financial providers don’t have. As member-owned financial cooperatives that focus on service and inclusion rather than profits, credit unions are in the best position to serve the country’s rapidly growing Hispanic community.

    Many credit unions already know this through experience, and both the institutions and their Hispanic members are gaining from their relationships. But more financial cooperatives need to strategically pursue Hispanics and all the financial potential they bring, for the sake of their own institution’s relevance as well as for the growth of the credit union community nationwide. And they need to do so now, before more of the competition catches on.

    Hispanics continue to be the U.S. population’s most rapidly growing segment and their numbers are staggering.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 59.9 million Hispanics who call the U.S. home, comprising close to 20 percent of the population. By 2060, experts say, that number will grow to 119 million, or almost 29 percent of the population. Today, one in five U.S. consumers is Hispanic; by 2060, it will be close to one in three.

    Think about the implications of those data points and the impact they will have on our evolving social and cultural landscape. Individual credit unions have done very well in getting to know their Latino communities, serving them in ways that make sense to those members and encourages them to engage with the credit union. But many experts have noted that future credit union growth will likely come largely from the Hispanic community, given their rapid demographic growth. As an industry, we have yet to make a concerted effort to reach the Hispanic population on a nationwide basis in profound ways that reach beyond translated marketing materials.

    Other industries, and even other financial providers, are far ahead of credit unions when it comes to approaching and serving the Latino community.

    – As far back as 2002, Frito Lay introduced an extensive line of snack food targeted at the Hispanic market after testing showed that U.S. Hispanics favored snacks flavored with chile, citrus and cheese seasonings. Frito Lay understood that cultural differences come in different flavors.

    – In 2012, household brand manufacturer Proctor & Gamble (through Orgullosa, its subsidiary devoted to celebrating and empowering Latinas), initiated a program through the Hispanic Scholarship Fund that financially supported Hispanic youth pursuing careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). P&G knew that supporting the Hispanic community is a large part of building relationships with its members.

    – Even Bank of America has invested heavily in serving Hispanics. Through its Hispanic and Latino Organization for Leadership Advancement (HOLA), which had grown to more than 30 internal chapters by 2003, the $2.4 billion bank teaches employees and managers how to better understand and serve the Hispanic community nationwide. They know that better customer relations mean more business and increased loyalty.

    Coopera’s goal is to help credit unions prosper through better service to the Hispanic community. But we are only half the equation. Credit unions themselves must step to the plate to better capitalize on this rapidly growing market. Those who do are almost guaranteed to hit a home run.

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    Including Diversity: The Time is Now

    Posted by on October 16, 2019

    Victor Miguel Corro

    Victor Miguel Corro

    One of the world’s most influential writers, Victor Hugo, once said, “Greater than the tread of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come.”  And when it comes to embracing diversity as one of the credit union movement’s guiding principles, not only has its time come, but we risk having the opportunity pass us by if we fail to wholeheartedly embrace it.

    Fifteen years ago, the leadership of the Iowa Credit Union League had a vision of how to better serve a rapidly diversifying population. Out of that vision and, in partnership with Warren Morrow, came Coopera, an organization specifically designed to tear down walls and build bridges between credit unions and the Hispanic community.

    Since that time, Coopera has reached beyond Iowa’s borders to help credit unions nationwide serve the largest minority population segment in the United States. Ask any of those early adopters today, and it’s clear just how positive the impact of those efforts have been, both for the credit unions and the Hispanic members they serve.

    But the past is only prologue to what lies ahead. Even with every credit union’s best intentions, previous efforts to increase diversity may have missed a critical need for representation at the highest levels, including the creation of diverse management teams and boards of directors. Such gap can certainly hinder our best efforts to continue broadening services to an increasingly multicultural membership base. In worst-case scenarios, credit unions run the risk of being less, rather than more inclusive, not only in providing services, but also in their governance and leadership structures. In the end, it is a matter of relevance.

    Historically speaking, the global credit union movement has been guided by seven cooperative principles first drafted in 1844 by the Rochdale Society in England. These principles have been revisited over the years by other cooperative groups, but today include voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, members’ economic participation, autonomy and independence, education and training, cooperation among cooperatives and concern for community.

    Although those principles do not specifically use the words diversity, equity and inclusion, each one of them touches on it in one way or another. All seven principles address the power of financial self-determination among members, but do not directly reflect the growing diversity of those members. Perhaps it’s time to make the credit union movement’s commitment more explicit.  This is something that CUNA’s board addressed within the last month. It’s time to create leadership structures that better reflect the country’s changing demographics.

    There’s been a lot of talk recently among credit union groups and individuals about taking action and making that commitment public. There will be even more conversations in the months to come. Given the current social and political struggles around these issues, credit unions – institutions that have been built on principles, not profits – must revisit, revise and restate those principles in ways that speak specifically to the 21st Century. These efforts start with each of us as individuals.

    The Greek philosopher Democritus once said, “A wise man belongs to all cultures, for the home of a great soul is the whole world.”  It’s clear the credit union movement was founded by wise men and women based on sound and equitable democratic principles. Let’s take those principles to decisively take the next step and make sure they include every member of our increasingly diverse population who needs and wants to participate equally and inclusively at all levels of their credit union, and, by extension, society.

    Now, not later, is the time to act on an important idea whose time truly has come.

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    It’s Time to Promote Hispanic MBLs

    Posted by on September 16, 2019

    Hispanic barista serving a coffee

    Credit union interest is growing in offering member business loans, or MBLS, even though strict regulatory limitations still exist. The lending rules are clear, but the amount of MBL dollars available differs based on a credit union’s size and the makeup and performance of its overall loan portfolio.

    With fewer MBLs available compared to other loans, the ones credit unions do issue should be given to well-performing entrepreneurs with the greatest need, and who can do the greatest good with those funds for their community. In our minds, Hispanic-owned businesses should be top contenders when credit unions make their MBL decisions.

    Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t. Hispanics are one of the country’s fastest-growing population segments, and also one of its most entrepreneurial. Moreover, loans to Hispanic-owned businesses are being increasingly targeted by banking industry competitors in a way that is frictionless and culturally relevant.

    A 2018 Gfk Social and Strategic Research study surveyed Hispanic and non-Hispanic business owners about their beliefs and practices. These results may surprise you.

    * Hispanic business owners are significantly more confident in overall economic growth than their non-Hispanic counterparts. In 2019, 68 percent of Hispanic owners believed their local economy would grow compared to 54 percent of their non-Hispanic counterparts. Although slightly lower, faith in national economic growth measured 59 percent and 55 percent, respectively.

    * Concurrent with their optimism, Hispanic business owners raised greater levels of concern over the rising cost of doing business. Those concerns included everything from increasing health care costs (70 percent for Hispanic owners versus 63 percent for non-Hispanics) to continued strength of the U.S. dollar (59 percent versus 42 percent, respectively) to credit availability (45 percent versus 29 percent, respectively). Such cautionary concerns added to their overall optimism place Hispanic business owners in a stronger and more realistic position to effectively compete in an open marketplace.

    Hispanic business owners surveyed about their future plans again outpace those of their non-Hispanic counterparts.

    * In 2019, 74 percent of Hispanic-owned businesses expected to increase revenues, compared to just 57 percent of their non-Hispanic counterparts.

    * For the same year, 51 percent of Hispanic owners plan to hire more staff, compared to 26 percent of non-Hispanic owners.

    * Finally, 28 percent of Hispanic owners say they plan to apply for loans, compared to only 14 percent of their non-Hispanic counterparts.

    This all adds up to greater optimism and market-readiness by Hispanic-owned business, 87 percent of which planned to expand their enterprise in 2019. It also means a greater need for available capital to help those businesses reach their lofty, but eminently achievable goals.

    Credit unions need to play an active role in this process through member relations and MLBs. Your Hispanic members,a highly motivated and growing market segment whose successes will benefit both sides of the lending equation, are relying on you.

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    Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month!

    Posted by on August 15, 2019

    Hispanic Heritage Month is right around the corner! Central American FoodThis year, the 31 days of celebration begin on Sunday, September 15, and end on Tuesday, October 15. During this special month, we recognize the centuries of contributions made to United States growth and development by Hispanics.

    For credit unions that serve large Hispanic communities, public recognition and celebration of the month can both honor the heritage of members and build stronger relations between them and the institution. But even credit unions that don’t serve large numbers of Hispanics should recognize the importance of what has become one of the country’s fastest-growing population groups.

    Many businesses find numerous ways to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. Here are a few ideas that you can use.

    Host employee and member luncheons or receptions featuring food and beverages from Latin American countries. Nothing brings people together faster than food, and a buffet of authentic dishes would create real interest from your community to want to learn more about the Hispanic culture.

    Hold a ‘lunch and learn’ event for staff that features a local Hispanic community leader. Find someone who can talk about the financial needs of the community and other topics that foster curiosity understanding and empathy. Too many people are reluctant to reach across the aisle and get to know people outside their social circle. This would be an excellent opportunity to break down a few barriers of cross-cultural communication.

    Conduct a credit union-wide charity drive to raise funds for a Hispanic need or educational opportunity. In addition to helping a good cause, employee participation can help raise awareness and empathy among credit union members, board and staff, all of which are key to greater cultural awareness.

    Aprende a hablar Español. (Learn to speak Spanish.) Whether it’s a new Spanish word each day for 31 days, impromptu dialogue lessons in the employee break room, or one-on-one tutorials between Spanish-speaking employees and those who want to learn, everyone benefits when everyone gets talking. Communication leads to understanding, and knowing the language is where it starts.

    Take cultural field trips. Chances are there is more activity going on among local Hispanic community members than you might think. Seek it out and encourage employees to visit Hispanic cultural centers, art galleries, dances, concerts and even food carts. Task those employees to describe their impressions at weekly staff meetings. That way everyone learns from each other’s experiences.

    ¡Fiesta! Feeling ambitious? Host an outdoor concert and mini-fiesta one Saturday morning during Hispanic Heritage Month in the credit union’s parking lot, serving food and featuring a live local Latino entertainment. Such an event can attract members and nonmembers alike, perhaps even drawing local TV news coverage because of the music, colorful costumes and festive activities. It’s a very visible way to show support for the Hispanic community and maybe even gain new members in the process.

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    Hispanic ”Duality” Offers Both Challenges and Opportunities

    Posted by on June 18, 2019

    When I arrived in the United States in 1991 to study economics at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire on a Fulbright Scholarship, the first question people inevitably asked me was, “Where are you from?” I was born and raised in Panama, so the answer was easy each time I was asked. And I was asked the question a lot.

    For the most part, I’ve lived in the U.S. ever since that time. I married my wife—a Wisconsin native— and settled in the city of Janesville where we raised a son and a daughter. I was granted U.S. citizenship in 2014 and carry a U.S. passport. And I still get asked the question, “Where are you from?” These days, the answer isn’t quite as simple.

    Like many Hispanics in America, I identify strongly both with my country of origin and my adopted home. Fluent in both Spanish and English, I move comfortably in both worlds, and yet don’t feel fully a part of either one. There’s a duality to my life, an “in-between,” a situation that exists for many Hispanics. I tend to think of it as an “otherness,” with both feet planted firmly in each of two distinctly different cultures and not fully anchored to either one.

    Fortunately, I’ve turned what some see as an insurmountable challenge into distinct opportunities. It took a while for me as a young man to learn the norms and behaviors acceptable in my new American home. But I was an eager student and made it a point to understand and accept changes without fully losing aspects of my Panamanian culture and heritage.

    Since then, I’ve learned to use the traits of each culture to enrich and enhance my relationship with the other. My cultural duality has helped broaden my understanding, strengthen my skillset and move more freely and operate more effectively in a variety of settings. When you paint from a more diverse color palette, as they say, the end result is always both richer and brighter.

    My two kids are, of course, part Panamanian and I do my best to keep that part of their lineage alive. But to them cultural duality is far more conceptual than it is an actual part of their daily lives. It has always been interesting to me the role that parents play in acculturation and assimilation in households with immigrant parents. Each one is very different.

    As credit unions seeking to serve the Hispanic community, it’s important for you to understand the two worlds where Latino members navigate every day. We’ve said before that serving Hispanics is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. It’s a community of people as rich and varied as the number of countries from which they come, the social and economic strata in which they live, and the extended families that play so significant a role in each of their lives.

    Now add to that the notion of duality and its impact on first-, second- and third-generation Hispanic Americans. Their cultural heritage will always be present, but the duality may fade as assimilation becomes more complete with each succeeding generation. The way you treat any of the generations when they come to the credit union seeking services is often the difference between success and failure.

    Sound complicated? It doesn’t need to be. As a not-for-profit member service organization, it simply comes down to knowing your member and how best to meet his or her needs. The better you know Hispanic members the more effectively you will be able to serve them and the more business they will bring to the credit union. That’s a challenge that can result in greater opportunities for all.

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    Remittances Continue to be Relevant to Hispanic Families

    Posted by on February 25, 2019

    Few things are more important to Hispanics than family. In fact, both the nuclear and extended families – las familias – are highly valued by the vast majority of Hispanics both in the U.S. and throughout Latin America.

    It comes as no surprise that remittances, those funds sent to support family and sometimes friends, are an important part of many Hispanic household budgets. Credit unions that provide remittance transfer services are discovering how important and vital those services can be, especially given the growing U.S. Hispanic population and rising number of immigrants.

    Some 58 million Hispanics live and work in the U.S. according to the Pew Research Center, comprising roughly 18 percent of the U.S. population. Add to that the growing number of immigrants and you have a very large number of people seeking to send remittances home to family members.

    After a slight downturn in recent years, remittance activity among Hispanics has spiked with even greater growth anticipated. This provides credit unions a chance to serve more Hispanics and realize greater economic opportunities. In many Latin American households, remittances constitute a primary source of income, making the transferred money vital to those families’ financial wellbeing.

    The remittance numbers are worth noting. According to a study led by the Center for Latin American Monetary Studies (CEMLA), 2017 remittances from the U.S. to Latin American and Caribbean countries totaled $77.02 billion, with an anticipated increase in 2018 to nearly $90 billion.

    Remittances are sent through a variety of merchants, from banks to cafes to convenience stores, often at a cost of 7 to 9 percent of the total remittance amount. Credit unions, can process remittances at a more economical rate, easing the financial burden on senders and putting more money into the hands of the Latin American families who need it the most.

    In recent years financial institutions have started partnering with fintechs to provide remittances. As many Hispanics are young digital natives, they use digital touchpoints to send money abroad.  It is important to develop a digital strategy for remittances.

    If you already serve or seek to serve Hispanics, consider ramping up your remittance program to help service the growing demand. As a source of transfer fee income and a member service opportunity, fulfilling this need can be unmatched among the services your credit union offers.

    It also is an effective way to increase the number of Hispanic members and their loyalty to your institution, as well as help them preserve their cultural traditions of helping la familia.

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    Setting Members’ New Year’s Financial Resolutions in Motion

    Posted by on January 23, 2019

    Every new year brings new opportunities to create healthier lifestyle habits, establish goals and objectives for the coming year, and in some ways start life over. Unfortunately, most new year’s resolutions focus on physical health, rather than fiscal health. That’s an oversight few credit union members – or anyone, for that matter – can afford on their journey to long-term financial well-being.

    Now is an excellent time for credit unions to help their Hispanic members improve their financial practices, foster wise money spending decisions and more effectively manage their own financial futures.

    The first step is to help Hispanic members identify their financial goals for the new year. Here are a few questions credit unions can ask their members to help them chart the right course.

    • What dreams do you have for yourself or your family? This is the first and most basic question to ask. In order to establish an effective financial plan, it is important to help the members visualize what they are working towards and what small steps they can take to someday achieve their goal.

     

    • Are you ready to purchase a new home? Current renters may face an uptick with monthly mortgage costs, but they also will start building equity, giving them a stronger financial foundation.

     

    • Are you carrying an unusually heavy debt load? Paying off loans and reducing debt is one of the best ways members can improve their financial position and credit scores, both of which can lead to greater financial security and lower future loan rates. This is an opportunity for the credit union to promote their credit building products in a way that is relevant to the Hispanic community.

     

    • How do you plan for your monthly bills? Over time, our lives change, yet many people’s budgeting habits do not. Provide a monthly budget template that can be adjusted based both on what people need and can afford. New financial options arrive constantly, some of which may enable them to live as well or better on less.

     

    • Is there a big purchase you can start saving up for? The idea of saving more and spending less can become more appealing if the member is aware that they will need the funds later. This is a concept foundational to financial security. Merely asking the question may spark some creative thinking and set members on a better financial course.

     

    Is there anything you would like to stop or start doing financially? It is a simple yet powerful question that could make a member ponder. It is worth asking.

    Asking these and other questions can be important in helping members set the course for a brighter financial future, one that might even give them the opportunity  to take that long awaited vacation they have always wanted or make a larger purchase of something they need. It is difficult for credit unions or their members to understand or know how to reach their financial goals until those questions are answered.

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    Trends Emerge from 2018 Successes

    Posted by on January 3, 2019

    This past year Coopera has had the opportunity to help multiple credit unions better serve their Hispanic constituents. We learned a lot in 2018, and we’re happy to see that both the credit unions and their Hispanic members benefited from our joint efforts.

    Several critical trends emerged from among those 2018 successes. Here are three we believe have widespread application to credit unions across the nation.

    1. Staff training opportunities have enabled more credit unions to share Hispanic market service and growth insights with employees at all levels.

    Helping credit union staff – both new and experienced – understand the cultural nuances of serving all member segments has become an important growth strategy. In best-practice credit unions, cultural awareness training is no less important than financial and technological training, and it’s something we hope more credit unions embrace in the future.

    Coopera is able to measure and score a credit union’s cultural sensitivity, enabling it to better communicate with Hispanic members. From that score, the credit union can adjust its operational thinking and practices so more Hispanic members feel understood and appreciated by the institution. Increased understanding, in turn, results in more and better service to those members, eventually leading to greater product engagement by Hispanic members in those credit unions.

    2. Increased ITIN lending by credit unions both new to and experienced with such loans has resulted in larger loan portfolios and better member service.

    Loans made using Individual Tax Identifications Numbers (ITINs) rather than Social Security numbers to verify identity are still new to many credit unions. But credit unions that understand the nuances of using this form of legal ID have discovered new and often untapped sources of loan demand and revenue. From payday loan alternatives to credit-builder loans to auto loans and even mortgages, the demand and opportunities for ITIN loans are helping both borrowers and lenders thrive.

    Produced with the help of partner organizations, Coopera offers access to an ITIN lending guide that provides both recommendations and resources for such a program’s application and use. Access the guide free of charge here: https://filene.org/do-something/programs/non-citizen-lending.

    While a program like ITIN lending is an opportunity to engage Hispanic members, credit unions offering only the foundation of such financial access without building a framework for its Hispanic members’ financial growth run the risk of losing those members to the competition. Coopera offers credit unions assistance in creating holistic solutions to help Hispanic members financially grow with the institution.

    3. State credit union leagues are using Coopera’s solutions so that their member institutions increase membership to include Hispanics.

    Leagues nationwide recognize their duty in providing tools for member credit unions grow, and more of them are finding greater growth by attracting Hispanic members by clearly showing the philosophical imperative and business case for it. As one of the fastest growing demographic groups in the U.S., Hispanics present significant opportunities for credit unions nationwide.

    One of Coopera’s partner leagues, for example, has a goal of helping its credit unions reach 1 million members within the state. To assist them with this goal, Coopera provides “opportunity maps” identifying Hispanic groups for the league’s credit unions, enabling them to target, attract and serve members about whom they otherwise might not have known. We’re doing the same thing with other leagues as well, and look forward to future partnerships on projects such as this.

    The initiatives outlined above illustrate how Coopera has actively helped the credit union movement reach out and better serve Hispanics throughout this past year. Coopera will continue these initiatives and actively exploring how to integrate more solutions and insights to reach underserved in the years to come.

    We look forward to having you with us on the journey in the New Year!

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