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  • Its Not About the Bottom Line, Its About the Needs of the Member

    Posted by on June 10, 2014

    The following case study is an excerpt from Coopera’s Iowa Hispanic Opportunity Report for the Iowa Credit Union League (ICUL). For more information, contact the ICUL at www.iowacreditunions.com.

    Veridian Credit Union, headquartered in Waterloo, Ia., has a long history of offering innovative and affordable financial services to members. One way Veridian differentiates its business from other financial service providers in the area is by offering services specifically designed to improve the socio-economic well-being of those in greatest need — including the local Hispanic community. For Veridian it’s not about the business’s bottom line; it’s about best serving members’ financial needs.

    “Many years ago, Veridian recognized a need to offer Latinos in our communities more affordable products and services compared to the expensive alternatives they were using,” said Angela Weekley, Veridian community inclusion manager. “We also understood that our credit union’s value to members was to help them build a successful financial future, rather than offering one-off solutions.”

    To aid their efforts, Veridian began working with Coopera to better understand the nuances of the Hispanic culture, to learn more about what this market needed out of a financial services provider and to build a relationship with the Hispanic communities in its operations areas. Coopera also gave Veridian guidance in hiring bilingual staff, as well as marketing and tailoring its product and services mix to this very important demographic.

    According to Shelly McGill, Veridian’s Central Iowa regional manager, offering the right products and services was very important to meeting Latino members’ unique financial needs. One of the actions Veridian took was to give members a viable alternative to expensive payday-loan centers and check-cashing services. To do this, Veridian introduced an affordable alternative to traditional payday lending outlets in early 2007. “The Payday Lending Alternative (PAL) loan features a savings component to help break the cycle of dependency on payday loans,” said McGill. “This program was a success almost immediately. Just two years after it was introduced, Veridian had already awarded more than 4,700 PAL loans to both Latino and non-Latino members.”

    Veridian also started offering the Coopera Card, a prepaid card tailor-made for the Hispanic market. Quinceañera loans, checking and savings accounts, CDs (Certificates of Deposit) and credit card accounts, as well as home equity loans, round out the services of which Veridian’s Hispanic members take advantage.

    In addition to those products, Veridian made an effort to enhance its member services. They became an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) acceptance agent to help community members apply for their ITIN number through the IRS, and also began to offer interest-bearing safe savings accounts and loans to Hispanic members without traditional forms of identification and documentation. Veridian’s ITIN loan offerings include credit builder loans, auto loans and consumer loans such as the PAL, share secured co-signer loans. The company also focused on offering financial education opportunities, like a credit builder loan program, to help immigrant families better acclimate to the U.S. financial system. Prior to hiring additional Spanish-speaking staff, the credit union incorporated an AT&T Language Line better-equip English-speaking staff to assist Spanish-speaking members.

    To support these products and services, Veridian also began to enhance its internal infrastructure for Hispanic outreach. “We make a point to hire bilingual staff in our branches when the opportunity makes sense, even adding more staff in those locations with greater non-English speaking populations,” said Weekley, who noted the credit union currently employs 23 Spanish-speaking staff in its 26 branch locations. “We implemented a diversity training program for all employees to make sure everyone is on board with the company’s goals and efforts.”

    Weekley added that Veridian started their outreach to the Hispanic community by forming an advisory council made up of staff and local community members. It helped the credit union better understand the Hispanic community’s needs and make recommendations on how Veridian could best meet those needs.

    Veridian continues to focus its external marketing efforts on better targeting Latinos. “We create bilingual brochures and collateral for our products and services,” said Weekley. “And, we advertise in Spanish newspapers and on local radio stations. We make sure to participate in public relations opportunities, like providing information or quotes for articles in newspapers and magazines, to build awareness about Veridian and its outreach efforts.”

    “We asked the council to review our initiatives to make sure they make sense for our Latino members,” said Weekley. “Advisory Council members reviewed materials to make sure our translations accurately reflect the messages we wanted to communicate.”

    In addition to its marketing initiatives, Veridian’s external outreach efforts include becoming an active participant in the local communities the credit union serves. Every year, staff participate in local Latino Heritage Festival and Cinco de Mayo celebrations, as well as partner with organizations like J&E Entertainment in Iowa City, Ia., to host an annual Sunset Salsa event. And, each July, Veridian is the presenting sponsor for Festival Latino de Cedar Rapids in Cedar Rapids, Ia.

    The cooperative is also active in community organizations. For example, McGill serves on the Latino Forum of the Urban Core, a Des Moines based group of members and supporters of the Latino community. “We really care about the people in our communities,” added Weekley, “and we are proud that our actions and intentions are authentic. The best way to prove this to our members is by truly becoming a part of their lives.”

    All of these efforts have been successful thanks to the credit union’s hard work and dedication to this mission of improving its members’ lives. To continue its success, McGill noted that Veridian keeps up-to-date on the latest rules and regulations in the financial industry, makes sure the cooperative is offering products and services that not only make sense for members but that also comply with the law .

    “Because we are a cooperative, rather than a for-profit business,” said McGill, “we can focus on doing what’s right for our members. Our results prove this is the right approach. In 2012, we experienced a 10-percent growth in our Latino membership.” Currently, 6,398 of the credit union’s 174,000 members are Latino.

    Weekley concluded, “We truly listen to the voice of the people — not just guess which products and services Hispanic members need. We ask them for input and then deliver what they want. We are proud of what we’ve accomplished so far and will continue to look for ways to grow our efforts and opportunities in the future.”

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