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.
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.Leave a comment
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.
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.Leave a comment