When Greater Iowa Credit Union, headquartered in Ames, Ia., acquired two branch locations with large Hispanic membership populations, the senior leadership team knew the credit union had to step up its efforts to serve this important member segment. Focused on positively impacting its membership base, Greater Iowa implemented a Hispanic initiative, which started as a very marketing-centric approach and grew it to include full credit union involvement.
The first step Greater Iowa took was to apply for the Credit Union Remittance Outreach Program (CUROP) grant from World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), Coopera and the Iowa Credit Union League (ICUL). At the time, Greater Iowa did not have a remittance program in place and knew it needed help to implement a successful one if it was to provide an affordable and convenient alternative for Hispanic members sending money to loved ones in Mexico. “Greater Iowa was one of only three Iowa credit unions accepted into the program that year,” said Michael Adams, Greater Iowa’s vice president of marketing and public relations. “It became the jumping off point for the credit union’s entire Hispanic-focused effort.”
Adams became the point person for Greater Iowa’s external efforts, immersing himself in the initiative and leading the charge for the credit union’s Hispanic marketing, outreach and community-involvement programs. The company partnered with Coopera to guide them on next steps. “At Coopera’s recommendation, we refreshed our marketing collateral to be more focused on the Hispanic community’s financial needs, which included of course, Spanish translation,” said Adams.
He continued, “We also developed a portal site that our Spanish-speaking members can use any time to gain immediate access to our bilingual materials. And, we started advertising on the regional Spanish-language TV channel, on two Spanish-language radio stations and in two Spanish-speaking newspapers. In addition, we put together a testimonial TV commercial featuring one of our Hispanic members from the Denison branch.”
With Coopera’s guidance, Greater Iowa also gained insight into the cultural and lifestyle nuances of its Hispanic members. This knowledge enabled the credit union to further fine-tune its efforts. “We found with the Hispanic community that word-of-mouth referrals can really make or break a credit union’s success in a local market,” added Adams. “To increase opportunities to reach more members in the communities we serve, we began to take a more active approach toward earning positive word of mouth.”
According to Adams, this included participating in Iowa’s annual Latino Heritage Festival; speaking at industry events, such as the 2012 Latino Credit Union Conference in San Diego, Calif.; participating in editorial opportunities with industry media and starting an annual scholarship program for first- and second-generation Hispanic high school students.
Additionally, the credit union began to host its own member appreciation events throughout the year. For example, Greater Iowa’s East Des Moines location hosts an annual Fiesta de Navidad event during the Christmas season, and its Denison branch puts on an annual Cinco de Mayo event in May. “The first year we hosted our Fiesta de Navidad party, we had 300 people show up,” boasted Adams. “And, we’ve increased attendee turnout at the event every year since. We like doing these types of events because it gives us the opportunity to show our Hispanic members how much we appreciate their loyalty and trust in us.”
On the internal front, Greater Iowa started the Employee Implementation Team (EIT) to help the credit union expand the Hispanic initiative from a marketing campaign to a company-wide program. According to Adams, the EIT has played a very important part in expanding Greater Iowa’s Hispanic efforts. This includes advocating necessary changes to the board, senior management and key staff. For example, at the recommendation of the EIT, Greater Iowa’s HR department became very instrumental in growing the credit union’s Hispanic opportunities. “They worked with our current staff to better understand how to serve Hispanic members,” said Adams, “as well as hired bilingual staff to build up our talent base. Today, 10 of our 85 employees are bilingual.”
The EIT also initiated a monthly email communication to all employees, updating them on current issues affecting the Hispanic community, as well as on the credit union’s relevant products, services and programs. In addition, the team publishes a regular newsletter that provides in-depth details on the “who, what, when, where and why” of the credit union’s efforts. “These communications are so critical in helping us keep the importance of the Hispanic initiative in front of all employees,” said Adams.
Through EIT encouragement, the credit union’s business and product development teams have become more involved with the initiative. According to Adams, each of these teams has recognized that in order to allow Hispanic immigrants to open a checking or savings account, apply for a loan or take advantage of the credit union’s other financial services, customer identification policies needed to adapt to include the matricula consulate cards.
Going one step further, Greater Iowa also decided to offer a credit builder lending program, for individuals with either a SSN or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), branded the Préstamo Camino al Crédito or Path to Credit Loan— one of the first in Iowa. “This was a very controversial decision for Greater Iowa,” said Adams. “We knew the program might not be profitable right away because of the high cost of service in delivering these small dollar loans, but we saw great potential for its future revenue opportunities. To implement, we had to get full buy-in and support from our board and executive staff, as well as overcome some regulation challenges under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). We also had to lobby the program in the communities we serve to convince Hispanics that we wanted to work with them and support their financial needs.”
Adams said that although the credit builder lending program took two years to implement, it became very popular in a short amount of time. To further help newer Hispanic members become more integrated into the U.S. financial system, Greater Iowa offers Spanish educational seminars on topics like building a credit history and how to use online banking services. The credit union recently rolled out Spanish online banking services, which include a mobile app that’s available in Spanish and allows members to view their balance and transfer funds from one account to the other, amongst other services. “The Hispanic community has been so appreciative of our efforts and personnel,” added Adams. “It’s become symbolic of our company’s approach to the Hispanic initiative.”
According to Adams, the results of these efforts have indicated the success of Greater Iowa’s Hispanic initiative. “We have seen a change in character of our entire membership base,” said Adams. “Of the nearly 29,000 members we serve in 31 Iowa counties, approximately 8 percent claim Hispanic heritage, and we continue to see 3 percent quarter-to-quarter growth.”
Adams concluded: “My advice to any credit union looking to court the Hispanic community is that the credit union needs both internal and external advocates, like its Board, senior leadership, staff, an EIT committee and partners such as Coopera, who understand the credit union’s vision and can continue to move the company’s Hispanic initiatives forward. These advocates are ideal resources for communicating with stakeholders, developing and nurturing relationships in the local communities and encouraging employees to follow best practices for successful implementation.”Leave a comment
In 2006, Des Moines Metro Credit Union (DMMCU), headquartered in Des Moines, Ia., performed an in-depth analysis to determine whether opening a new branch was the best way to grow their membership base. The credit union had endured several years of negative membership growth and wanted to reverse that trend. The analysis revealed that DMMCU was not maximizing opportunities to best reach and serve the households around the credit union’s existing locations. Before they could successfully open a new branch, the credit union’s leadership decided it would make sense to improve penetration in their current markets.
“We determined that the local Hispanic community was an ideal demographic target for growth,” said Traci Stiles, DMMCU business development manager. “Our branch is located near the Des Moines Hispanic community’s homes and workplaces. We knew we could gain board and staff support to offer much-needed services that would meet Hispanic members’ financial needs. It made a lot of sense for us to become a more active member in this community.”
Stiles and her team knew they would not be able to take the credit union in this new direction without help. They turned to Warren Morrow at Diverse Innovative Solutions, which later became Coopera, to guide them. “Coopera has been a key resource for us,” said Stiles. “In collaboration with Coopera, we have been able to keep up-to-date on best practices in the financial industry, as well as the Hispanic community, to gain new ideas for better serving our membership.”
The Coopera team has also been able to help DMMCU better understand the differences between Hispanic consumers and other DMMCU members. Armed with this knowledge, the DMMCU leadership, with Coopera’s guidance, has also been able to develop products and services that best match the Hispanic community’s cultural and lifestyle nuances.
One of the first products DMMCU implemented was remittance services through Vigo. Also, DMMCU initiated a credit builder loan program. “Our Credit Builder Loan has been the most successful product we’ve implemented to date,” said Stiles. “We started the program in the fall of 2009, and we’ve had over 65 members who have graduated from the program. The program has given us the opportunity to help members with one-on-one financial education as they build their credit. We’ve had minimal risk by using consistent underwriting guidelines, and the program has created loyal, life-long borrowers for DMMCU.”
In the first quarter of 2012, DMMCU also began offering the Coopera Prepaid Reloadable Visa card, a prepaid card program tailor-made for the Hispanic market. According to Stiles, the Coopera Card has turned out to be a popular product with the credit union’s entire membership. “We have sold more than 165 Coopera Cards since the launch.”
As DMMCU’s Hispanic outreach has evolved, the credit union has enhanced its member referral program to capitalize on the increased referral potential offered by the Hispanic community. Today, any current DMMCU member who refers a new member to the credit union gets entered into a monthly drawing for $100.
Products and services were not the only areas the credit union re-tooled to better focus on growing DMMCU’s Hispanic membership. According to Stiles, DMMCU also had to examine its current policies and procedures to make sure they accommodated growth in the Hispanic market. “We examined and altered our policies to allow Hispanics to use matricula consular cards and ITINs to open accounts,” said Stiles. “We also educated our staff about various forms of compliant identification.”
In addition, Stiles and the DMMCU team re-evaluated their marketing efforts to best target the Hispanic community. Today, the credit union’s efforts include bilingual materials, member testimonials and advertising in the local Hispanic media. For example, DMMCU recently used a testimonial from a female Hispanic member who was able to purchase her first car through the credit builder program. “We make sure to solicit feedback from our bilingual staff on existing and new products and services. Also, we make them aware of our community advertising campaigns to make sure we are doing everything we can to be successful,” said Stiles.
“We also track the language preferences of our members so when we do a bilingual direct mail piece we can identify members who speak Spanish,” added Stiles. “We also use Coopera’s Hispanic Member Analysis and Hispanic Opportunity Navigator to track our progress with our target market on a monthly and quarterly basis. Whenever we consider operational, product, or service changes/enhancements, we have to keep the Hispanic market in mind because they are becoming a larger part of our membership. Coopera has been instrumental to our success in each of these areas — from providing us with best practice examples to hosting quarterly and yearly board updates to helping us with reporting and benchmarking.”
DMMCU has become heavily involved in community outreach efforts, such as the Bank On Central Iowa* initiative. This program brings together financial educators, banks and credit unions to help improve financial education and access to underserved consumers, including Hispanics. “We strive to continually form partnerships with businesses and organizations, like Hispanic Educational Resources, that serve the Hispanic population in our area. We participate each year in the local Latino festival during Hispanic Heritage Month, as well as provide volunteers for other cultural events throughout the year.”
For a credit union of DMMCU’s size, Stiles feels the cooperative has made huge strides in serving the Hispanic community. The biggest indicator of success, according to Stiles, is membership growth. “Prior to our efforts with the Hispanic community, we were experiencing negative membership growth,” said Stiles. “In 2009, we began to see positive membership growth and have had positive growth every year since. Our average member age also continues to decrease. We have built the solid foundation with our board, staff and local community, and as a result, we are really seeing our hard work pay off.
The results are not always quantitative, said Stiles. “Our Hispanic members have told us how much they appreciate the friendly, individual attention our bilingual employees provide — we’ve built a strong foundation of trust with them,” added Stiles. “We strive to make sure they feel respected and are given affordable alternatives to higher-cost financial services.”
Stiles offered up these final insights: “My advice would be no matter how big or small, if a credit union has buy-in from all levels of the organization — the board, management and staff — it can successfully serve the Hispanic market, or any target demographic. It’s also important to monitor, track and recognize when processes, procedures, products and services need to be evaluated and adjusted. When you lay the proper foundation, you are bound to have success.
“I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished at DMMCU,” concluded Stiles. “It’s positive for our credit union’s growth, and because our members have the opportunity to take advantage of affordable financial services, it’s very rewarding for them, our credit union, and the credit union industry.
For more information about the Bank On Central Iowa initiative, visit the article “Financial Education Helps Out Unbanked” in the Des Moines Register. An online version of the article is available at: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20130702/NEWS/307020041/Financial-education-helps-out-unbanked?Frontpage.Leave a comment