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  • A Dash to Help DACA Recipients Achieve Their Education Goals

    Posted by on May 15, 2019

    5k runners

    Image courtesy of Des Moines Metro Credit Union.

    Posted by Kenia Calderon on May 15, 2019

    Coopera is dedicated to helping both credit unions and Latino communities across the country grow together to realize their dreams and successes. We’re always pleased and excited to see and support such efforts in action.

    When we come across a credit union that goes above and beyond in helping Latino communities, especially the most vulnerable ones, we’re absolutely thrilled. That happened in April when $55.7 million Des Moines Metro Credit Union (DMMCU) stepped forward to financially support its staff members participating in the second annual 5K run and fundraiser in support of DACAmented students on the Iowa State University campus.

    DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that allows youths under the age of 16 entering the United States to work in country for two years before having to reapply for a work permit. The current political environment poses a threat to the future of the DACA program, which primarily affects Latino immigrants. The program’s success is critical to the Latino community’s growth and personally important to me since I, too, am a DACA recipient.

    DMMCU had already provided exemplary service to its Latino members and critical support to its DACA community. The credit union offers a Credit Builder loan program that enables DACA recipients to pay application fees and other costs associated with their immigration processes.

    DMMCU also offers loans for members using ITINs and supports local community events such as the Iowa Latino Heritage Festival and the Warren Morrow Latin Music Festival, an event named for Coopera’s late founder. More than half of the credit union’s staff members are bilingual, and some are DACA recipients themselves or have friends who are.

    By supporting staff participation in the DACA 5K run, DMMCU took its message of support directly to the streets, or at least the Iowa State campus, to stand in solidarity with DACA recipients and promote how financial institutions can support the community outside of their branches. Funds raised by the run will help support the financial needs of DACA students attending the university, none of whom are eligible for government aid such as FAFSA.

    As the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States, Latinos are playing a weighty role in the present and future of this country. DACA recipients are the Latino community’s next generation, and their ability to fully participate in the American society is critical not only to their success, but that of the country at large.

    According to a University of California – San Diego study, 95% of DACA recipients are either working or in school, 63% worked their way up to a better job, 54% bought their first car and 12% bought their first homes. They are active participants in the U.S. economy, in many cases thanks to help from their credit unions.

    Supporting DACA recipients will be critical to the continued growth of both the Latino community and the credit union movement. What is your institution doing to foster and support the process?

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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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    What Credit Unions Can Learn from the Travel Industry’s Hispanic Experience

    Posted by on February 5, 2019

    With snow blanketing the ground and cold winds swirling the arctic air, few things sound better than summer vacation. Can you feel the sun-warmed sand between your toes?

    Your Hispanic members feel the same way. In fact, summer is when most of them travel for leisure or home to visit family and friends. But now is the time to plan and reserve the services they need to travel comfortably. We’ve noted this before, but the trend is even more prevalent when it comes to travel, Hispanics prefer to research and book their travel primarily online or through mobile applications.

    Hispanic travelers comprise a large market for travel companies. As one of the fastest growing U.S. demographics, Hispanics spend $56 billion annually in leisure travel, according to the National Tour Association. In addition, 79 percent of Hispanics take at least one vacation per year, while 17 percent take three trips per year. Hispanics have many emotional ties to their country of origin, so they are very likely to go back even a couple of times a year when they can.

    So, what are the travel companies doing to win the business of Hispanics?

    The key to usage and growth of the travel industry’s Hispanic market has been to have a Spanish-language website that caters to Hispanic members’ cultural needs. More hotels, airlines and other travel industry members have added these sites, and their profits have grown because of it.

    Take the airline JetBlue. Six weeks after deploying a Spanish mobile website, the airline’s Hispanic traffic grew by 80 percent. Since then revenue from Hispanics visiting the site has grown 300 percent, enrollment in JetBlue’s loyalty program grew 200 percent and nearly 50 percent of all Hispanic customers visit the site via mobile devices.

    The data makes it clear that establishing Spanish-speaking and culturally friendly sites is an investment that pays off. For credit unions, that means creating online sites and mobile applications that segments within their Hispanic membership want.

    In addition, you may want to consider improving your search engine optimization so that Hispanics looking for financial institutions find your credit union first, as well as making localized on-site searches easier. And don’t forget that many legal names include a tilde and/or accent mark. Your site must accept those symbols, especially since exact spellings are important to matching travelers’ valid IDs.

    Making it easier for Hispanics to learn about your financial services in their preferred language, will make them much more loyal to you in the future. Just ask JetBlue.

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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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    A Prayer and a Promise

    Posted by on October 29, 2018

    When I accepted the position of CEO of Coopera earlier this month, my team gave me a framed quote that, in terms of the organization’s mission and my own personal career trajectory, couldn’t have been more profound.

    Warren Morrow, founder of Coopera

    The quote reads, “Hispanics need credit unions as much as credit unions need Hispanics.” It is attributed to Warren Morrow, the founder of Coopera.

    To say that I was as moved by the gift as I was by the sentiments it expressed would be a significant understatement. In a mere 11 words, Warren’s statement outlined the future of both the credit union movement and that of Hispanics seeking to economically thrive in the United States. It also provides all of us with guidance in helping both communities cooperatively move forward in the new millennium.

    Warren was born in Mexico City to an Anglo father and a Mexican mother, moving to Tucson, Arizona, while still in grade school. The need to assimilate helped define Warren’s character, but he never forgot nor abandoned his Hispanic roots. Providing higher education opportunities and helping create financial stability for Hispanic families became the mission and the passion of his too-short life.

    Warren died unexpectedly in 2012 at age 34. Both Miriam De Dios Woodward, my predecessor at Coopera, and I had worked with Warren and are committed to following his guidance.

    Warren realized early that credit unions’ cooperative nature aligned with the different Hispanic cultures. As the number of U.S. credit unions continues to decline and more nontraditional vendors fight for our financial business, it’s not unrealistic to believe that Hispanic communities may be the best and most likely hope for the future of the credit union movement.

    Think for a moment about the parallels between the two entities. Despite their differences, the social cultures of various Hispanic countries are built on the strong foundation of family and community. Nothing is more important, and nothing else gives both the various cultures and their people their solidarity and strength.

    It’s also fair to say that of all financial institutions, credit unions come the closest to establishing “communities” among their members. Their emphasis on member service helps foster the financial growth among those communities, much like Hispanic communities and families foster the social and emotional growth among their members.

    Coopera exists to create a link between credit unions and the Hispanic communities they seek to serve. Through analytical study we can define exactly which Hispanic cultures predominate in each city, town or rural area. Our emphasis on digital and remote services can help credit unions reach those groups economically and address their needs in ways in which members themselves prefer to be served.

    Hispanic members are like anyone else in terms of the products and services they need and want to survive and thrive in today’s economic environment. The difference is that, unlike other member groups, Hispanics put greater faith and trust in their communities, and credit unions that align with those communities will see greater loyalty and higher levels of service usage among those community members.

    Warren Morrow knew that. Through Coopera and previous enterprises that he managed, Warren sought to strengthen the bond between Hispanics and credit unions through considerable effort and, probably, no small amount of prayer. His efforts and their effect are to be lauded.

    Warren’s message still lies at the heart of Coopera’s primary mission, and it’s a promise we plan to keep to both credit unions and the Hispanic communities they seek to serve.

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    Embracing a New Era of Success for Coopera

    Posted by on October 15, 2018

    It was barely 10 months ago that I joined Coopera as client relations director, having just spent 20 years working with the global credit union movement as part of World Council of Credit Union’s executive staff. Today, I begin my tenure as Coopera’s CEO.

    I’m still reeling at the tremendous opportunity I have been given.  I’m thrilled to be leading the only organization devoted to helping improve financial services delivery through credit unions for U.S. Hispanic population members nationwide. What an honor!

    I am thankful for the remarkable work former CEO Miriam De Dios Woodward has done building this organization. I’m pleased she has taken over the role of CEO of PolicyWorks LLC, Coopera’s sister organization that provides compliance solutions to more than 1,200 credit unions across the country.

    Victor Corro is the new CEO of Coopera.

    As CEO, I plan to carry on the work Miriam started to increase services to a growing number of credit unions and other organizations seeking to effectively serve Hispanic communities and individuals.  The market has never been larger, and the need for those services never greater.

    Many people don’t realize that there are currently about 55 million Hispanics living in the United States. That makes the U.S. the world’s second-largest Spanish-speaking country after Mexico.

    Hispanics also are the largest ethnic minority in the United States, and one that credit unions can most effectively serve through their cooperative structure and wide array of financial products and services.

    As a native of Panama and first-generation immigrant, I have lived the American immigrant journey. I had the good fortune to come to the U.S. as a teenager on a Fulbright scholarship to pursue degrees in economics and Latin American studies at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and I have been here ever since. I also have devoted my professional life to credit unions and have long promoted their ability to serve the Hispanic population.

    The key factor many credit unions forget, however, is that an effective service profile is at no time found in a one-size-fits-all strategy.

    Spanish may be our shared language, but each of us comes from a different culture. The culture in the Dominican Republic is different from that of Colombia, and Mexico is not the same as Cuba. Credit unions must first recognize the origins of their Hispanic members, then find ways to connect with their communities in order to gain the trust necessary to create a trust relationship with those members.

    Helping credit unions do just that through analytical tools and strategic planning is part and parcel of Coopera’s mission. Credit unions that understand their current and potential Hispanic membership base can better develop the proper strategic approach to serve those members. Supporting that understanding lies at the core of Coopera’s services.

    Given the current politics of immigration, the parameters for serving Hispanic members may seem very different from serving other member groups. Credit unions must be prepared to accept different forms of identification, for example, and be willing to partner with different community organizations to make sure Hispanics receive the financial and social support they need.

    For credit unions, it becomes a case of self-examination. Does the credit union truly represent the field of membership that it’s serving? Are there Spanish-speaking employees, executives and maybe even board members who represent what has the potential to become a key constituency?”

    For credit unions, effectively serving Hispanic members is much more than a case of just doing the right thing socially and politically. In a marketplace where competition increases while service opportunities decrease, building a strong Hispanic base can be the key to stability, relevancy and increased growth.

    Credit unions with significant Hispanic membership often see both loan and deposit growth at rates higher than industry norms, while the average member age has decreased by about 10 years. There is a positive business case for serving the Hispanic market, one that shows the market’s relevancy and sustainability over the long run.

    In the end, Coopera’s goal is to help credit unions succeed by understanding and creating empathy for people on the immigrant journey, much like the one I took.

    Our industry really can’t ignore a group that in just a couple of decades will comprise one-third of the U.S. population. At Coopera, we’d like to help more credit unions meet their own goals, and successfully serving Hispanic members is an important part of that equation.

    Speaking on behalf of Coopera’s excellent staff and myself, we’re all ready to work with partners both veteran and new in embracing a new era of success in serving Hispanic members nationwide.

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    Get to Know Víctor Miguel Corro

    Posted by on April 16, 2018

    Continuing our get-to-know series, we’d like to introduce you to Víctor Miguel Corro, who joined the Coopera team earlier this year as client relations director.

    How did you end up working for a company focused on helping credit unions serve the Hispanic market?

    Victor after a long hike at Macchu Picchu in Peru

    I’m no stranger to the credit union world, and in a career-transition moment, things aligned to give me this great opportunity. It is a great fit personally, as I am a first-generation immigrant. I came from Panama and now live in Wisconsin. I remember coming to the U.S. and facing everyday struggles. Everything from trying to get a haircut to adjusting to the climate was difficult. I’d never experienced a day below 75 degrees in my life and now I was living in Wisconsin. Talk about building character!

    What gets you out of bed in the morning?

    Knowing I support my family though a career in a mission-driven industry that ultimately seeks to improve lives. When I wake up, I see that as one more day, one more chance to help somebody.

    What does your typical day look like?

    My day consists of helping Coopera’s clients reach more people who do not know the joy of being part of a credit union. I get to interact with clients and work with our wonderful team to help those clients be the financial entity of choice for the Hispanic community.

    What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?

    Victor at a Florida credit union alongside a delegation from Brazil

    Be the proverbial bridge. That means working to connect people in spite of their background and differences. There is always common ground to be found, and that will push us all forward together.

    What excites you the most about the future of financial services in the Hispanic market?

    There is a growing understanding among credit unions that reaching an untapped market makes sense philosophically, and it also presents a strong business case. In my recent conversations with industry leaders, I have sensed the enthusiasm and a natural inclination to want to reach out and serve. The integration of technology is also a very exciting prospect for this market.

    Where do you go/what do you do to get inspiration?

    A hammock in Panama does the trick every time! But when that’s not available, it’s a long bike ride or an old song.

    What is something unique about you most people wouldn’t know?

    Victor with Oscar Arias, then president of Costa Rica

    My parents started a credit union back in my hometown in Panama. I was once a fifth-grade homeroom teacher. I have visited 89 countries (and not just the airport!). I have met six sitting heads of state in as many countries.

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    How JetStream FCU Sent an Important Message to a Hispanic High School Student

    Posted by on February 19, 2018

    In September 2017, we announced seven Juntos Avanzamos designated credit unions had received the 2017 Warren Morrow Hispanic Growth Fund Grant to continue their Hispanic outreach and community impact efforts. Over the next few months, we’ll be checking in with each of the credit unions and sharing updates on their progress.

    First up is JetStream Federal Credit Union in Miami Lakes, Florida.

    JetStream partnered with a local high school to select a deserving scholarship recipient. To qualify, the student needed to be a member of a Hispanic, low-income family and meet the following criteria: a 3.7 minimum GPA, a college in mind and an area of interest in business or finance.

    As a first step, JetStream chose Barbara Goleman Senior High as a partner. “We chose this high school because of its location, as well as its student body makeup,” said Vanessa Miranda, manager of HR and community outreach for JetStream. “The Barbara Goleman student makeup is 84 percent Hispanic.”

    (Left to right) JetStream FCU CEO Jeanne Kucey, Scholarship Winner Gabriel Hernandez, JetStream HR Manager Vanessa Miranda

    JetStream received many qualified applications, which included essay responses. With the help of several teachers and JetStream staff, they were able to select the winner: Gabriel Hernandez, a senior who will begin an accounting program at Florida International University in the fall.

    “Gabriel’s essay demonstrated his devotion to his academics,” said Miranda. “His long list of extra-curricular activities, as well as his academic achievements, truly stuck out from the rest. He has been an honors AP student since freshman year and has achieved a 4.9 weighted GPA. In addition, he is the captain of the soccer team and part of The National Honors Society.”

    Something else Jetstream says made Hernandez stand out was a strong commitment to his community. He has tutored immigrant students at a local high school, as well as volunteered his time to feed the hungry.

    Long-term, Hernandez plans to be an accountant or financial advisor. “I will be working with people and matching them to financial programs that will assist with their future,” Gabriel wrote in his essay. “Like JetStream’s motto, I believe that people matter most. I think that I could be an asset for both the consumer and the financial institution that hires me in the future.”

    In his essay, Hernandez also shared that he is concerned about how he will pay for college tuition and does not want to create further financial burdens for his parents.

    “We are very thankful that the Warren Morrow Hispanic Growth Fund Grant was awarded to JetStream, which allowed us to give a most valuable gift, the gift of education, to this deserving Hispanic student,” said Miranda. “I know this young man will go on to do amazing things. We feel honored that we were given the chance through this grant to aid him in achieving his goals and helping him see that the American dream is possible for everyone.”

    Hernandez closed his essay by writing, “I know that I will succeed in college, but this scholarship will show me that others believe in me, too.”

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    To Discover What You Have to Give, Put Yourself There

    Posted by on February 12, 2018

    Have you ever felt a calling to help, but you weren’t entirely clear what form that help should take? It’s a puzzle many credit union leaders confront. That’s because the credit union movement has rallied around the collective battle cry of “people helping people.” While most everyone working in or leading a credit union is aware of the mission, quite a few wonder, what exactly does “people helping people” look like in our cooperative? How can we live out the industry’s mission in our community? Who needs our help the most and how do we find them?

    The answers are clearer for some than others. Yet, even those with a solid giving-back plan in place often discover even more ways to contribute after they begin. The key, according to LiFE Federal Credit Union (LiFE FCU) CEO Dustin Fuller, is simply to put yourself in the place you believe you’re needed. The rest, he insists, usually happens naturally.

    Take Fuller’s recent credit union-sponsored mission trip, for instance. Fuller and LiFE FCU’s former chief lending officer (now CU Evolution CEO) Deke Alexander had a crystal clear vision for how their credit union employees could impact the lives of some of the world’s poorest people. Modeling their outreach after traditional church-sponsored mission trips, the pair gathered a group of employees and credit union members together and organized a mission trip of their own.

    Fuller and Alexander had traveled to the Dominican Republic before, so they had an intimate understanding of the acute need for access to clean drinking water in many of the villages there. The plan, then, was to mobilize their group around the installation of water filters in two villages. As the group went about making their plans for the trip, one of the soon-to-be missionaries had an idea. A LiFE FCU business member, he is also a doctor who owns and operates Total Eyecare, a vision clinic in LiFE FCU’s hometown of Denton, Texas. What if, the doctor proposed, we bring eyeglasses along for the village elders, many of whom are likely experiencing loss of vision as they age? Everyone agreed it was an excellent idea, so they packed a suitcase full of glasses and brought it along to the Dominican Republic.

    The five-day mission trip was, as Fuller describes it, “an awesome experience that did some amazing things for the hearts of employees and members.” By the time the group was ready to head back to the U.S., they had installed two LifeStraw filters that were producing enough clean drinking water for 400 people in three villages. And, they had outfitted 72 elders with reading glasses.

    Even more exciting, however, were the unanticipated ways the group was able to impact the lives of the villagers. As they moved about the people and the environment over those five days, they discovered three other, absolutely unexpected, ways they could impact the lives of the people they came to help.

    The first surprise came as their van was leaving one particular village. From inside the vehicle, the doctor spotted a young girl sitting alone in front of her family’s home. He asked the driver to stop so he could go and talk with her. As it turns out, the girl had trouble seeing because one of her eyes wasn’t focusing properly. The impairment also affected the way she looked, and she was being teased by her schoolmates. The doctor had with him a lens he believed would help. When the little girl tried on the glasses, her eye immediately responded, straightening out instantly. “Her little face just lit up,” said Fuller, who witnessed the moment. “And her mother… you should have seen her. She hit her knees, bawling. She had never seen her daughter’s eyes straight in her entire life.”

    The second surprise came out of a conversation the LiFE FCU missionaries were having with a few of the village pastors. The topic was how to help people in these desolate villages develop their own healthy economies. The group began to talk about the cooperative financial model and how supporting them in the build of a community-based financial network could work. They also discussed the development of a micro-lending pool to finance a motorcycle. If equipped with a crate or two, the villagers could sell their now-clean drinking water in nearby villages. The income could be pooled and used in the case of a health emergency, to finance additional motorcycles or for any other needs that came up. According to CU Evolution’s Alexander, the elders in the village were excited about the concept and are beginning to work toward bringing the vision into reality. LiFE FCU is also looking forward to supporting them as they develop the micro-lending network.

    Lastly, the group learned that pastors in nearby villages were forced to travel 10 hours every month to get the proper training they needed to support their villages. If they had mobile devices, however, they would be able to participate in training sessions digitally, staying close to the people in their villages while also learning what they needed to become even more adept at serving them. Fuller called back home to another of LiFE FCU’s business members, SNAG Management, and asked if there was anything they could do. The member gave an emphatic yes, and shipped off five iPhone 5s to the village pastors within a week.

    What was so special about each of those three moments, Fuller points out, is that they could never have been predicted. They happened as a natural outgrowth of the group being physically present in a space and being open to the opportunities that presented themselves.

    “The pastor at our church often says, ‘You have to go through to grow through it,’” said Fuller. “What he means is you have to experience first-hand how the people you want to help are moving through their days. And it’s not just about experiencing the poverty; it’s about experiencing how the people live and then discovering how you’re uniquely gifted to help.

    “Too often, in our personal lives and in business, we get so wrapped up in the way things have always been done,” continued Fuller. “The same is true for giving. Unless we look out at the horizon and think about exploring something new, we can’t grow. We have to go through it to grow through it.”
    As credit unions and other organizations ponder how they may be able to have a positive impact on their communities this year, it may be wise to strategize by physically moving into a new space. Maybe it’s holding strategic planning sessions alongside a local church in an underserved area of town or hosting a financial education session at a shelter. By getting into a different space, you may discover entirely new ways to give back in 2018.

    Alexander acknowledges that “putting yourself there” can be scary. But, he says, acknowledging the fear and pushing past it is worth the effort. “The first time I was approached about going on a mission trip, I didn’t know if I wanted to go. It seemed like an incredible amount of work. I didn’t know the language. I wasn’t comfortable with the environment. Mostly, I didn’t understand how I was going to be able to contribute or what I even had to give. But I did it, and it changed me. I just had to sit there and let the people impact me. It’s not what you know, it’s how open you are to the experience.”

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    Creating a More Inclusive Industry: Lessons for Credit Unions

    Posted by on January 22, 2018

    In its 2017 Diversity Report, Financial Solutions Lab (FinLab) provided an update on its efforts to create a more inclusive financial services industry. Managed by the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) with founding partner JPMorgan Chase & Co., FinLab seeks to identify, test and bring to scale promising innovations to improve financial health in America. The program is dedicated to supporting and encouraging diversity within the early-stage fintech space.

    “As an investor and supporter of early-stage startups, we believe that diverse teams simply build better products,” writes CFSI FinLab Senior Manager Maria Lajewski in the report. “By having a more comprehensive understanding of the market, diverse teams are more likely to build products that address the needs of a broad swath of consumers, including those who are historically underserved. And it’s those companies that are much more likely to grow and scale to reach millions of customers.”

    Below are a couple interesting findings Lajewski shares in the report:

    Of the 57 percent of Americans who struggle with their financial health, some segments of the population – including low-income women and people of color – struggle disproportionately.

    Of the 78 FinLab applicants who self-identified as targeting at least one underserved community, 32 had not yet raised any capital and 22 had raised less than $500,000. However, the average amount of capital raised across the total applicant pool was $630,000.

    LESSONS FOR CREDIT UNIONS

    FinLab’s findings and work to create a more inclusive industry are relevant to credit unions in several ways. Here are a few key takeaways:

    Consider extending credit to startups. The FinLab report reveals many early-stage companies, especially those serving underserved communities, struggle securing investment capital. With their community focus and “people helping people” philosophy, credit unions are well-suited to help meet that need. As reported in Inc., Apple may exist today because co-founder Steve Wozniak was able to get a loan from his credit union while the company was still based in a garage. Talk about a feather in that credit union’s cap.

    Educate staff and community. Throughout FinLab’s eight-month program, the organization brings in a wide range of people and experiences to help founders deepen their understanding of the financial challenges low-income and underserved consumers face. FinLab also organizes dinners to discuss how to build diverse organizational teams and culturally relevant products for underserved communities. Credit unions could easily adopt similar models to educate their employees and community members.

    Host “day-in-the-life” events. During a workshop called FinX, FinLab participants go into a local community to perform a series of real-time financial transactions, such as cashing a check, buying and loading a prepaid card and sending a money order. Here again, credit unions could organize similar activities to help their staff better understand the challenges faced by the underserved in their communities. Coopera coordinates similar activities through its Coopera Immersion Program. Our staff guide credit union team members through a series of exercises designed to give them a better idea of what life is like for the underserved in their communities.

    “While we understand these issues are multifaceted and will never be solved in a single conversation over dinner, creating a safe space and the opportunity to have these discussions is one way that we can regularly check our individual and collective blind spots,” writes Lajewski. “Where are the missed partnership opportunities or design decisions that could open up your customer base to those who have the most to gain from your product? It takes a little extra effort to make sure we’re creating a safe space to discuss these kinds of questions, but it’s an investment we’re willing to make.”

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