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  • Iowa Credit Union Sets Strategic Plan for Serving Mexican Immigrants

    Posted by on April 10, 2017

    David Suarez, bilingual community development manager at Iowa’s Community 1st Credit Union, says insists the key to building connections with Hispanic members is trust. “We have to gain that trust in the community,” he said. “We conduct outreach with community leaders, schools – even soccer teams – so we can show them we are offering not only services, but education. Typically, they are very interested to learn, but it’s important to know they may not have the basic knowledge of financial concepts. You have to get close to them to understand their particular point of view and their particular issue. Only then can you begin to develop the clear, simple messages you need to start them down the path to financial success in the U.S.”

    Among the connections Suarez and the Community 1st leadership has built is a partnership with the Mexican Consulate of Omaha, Guadalupe Sanchez Salazar. Shortly after building a relationship with Sanchez Salazar, the credit union signed an agreement to collaborate for the benefit of Mexican nationals that live in Iowa. As part of that agreement, any Community 1st member with a matricula consular card and Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) has access to nearly all of the credit union’s products and services, including mortgages. This will be hugely important to the credit union as it looks to serve more Mexican immigrants, which today make up 75 percent of Iowa’s immigrant population. Suarez pointed out the credit union is also working with the IRS to help more of its community members obtain ITINs. “We’re excited to help the community understand that with this number comes great advantages, such as checking accounts, loans and potentially even a mortgage.”

    In addition, the credit union is working with Iowa State University’s Extension and Outreach agency, which connects Iowans with the university’s research and resources. The agency is helping the credit union understand the education levels of the Hispanic community members local to the 15 communities PFCU serves through 17 locations in Iowa and northern Missouri.

    CU Achieves Juntos Avanzamos Designation

    In 2016, the credit union was given the Juntos Avanzamos designation, which translates to “Together, we advance. Awarded by the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions and Coopera, the designation is a national recognition of the work and commitment made to offer financial services to the Hispanic community. The designation also makes a public proclamation to the Hispanic community that the Juntos Avanzamos credit union welcomes the Hispanic community.

    On the strategic roadmap for Community 1st is continuous employee training and cross-department education so every staff member is aware they can accept alternative forms of identification to serve more community members. In addition, the credit union will conduct more community outreach, pursue a community development financial institution (CDFI) designation and institute a series of financial education programs in the coming year.

    To read how Community 1st has helped one very appreciative member achieve his American dream, download “Hispanic Member Growth Not Just for ‘Gateway States’ Anymore.”

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    One Credit Union’s Strategic, Collaborative Approach to Hispanic Member Growth

    Posted by on March 13, 2017

    Sometimes the best way to lead a successful strategy is to have survived an unsuccessful one. That is precisely the spirit with which Anne Hagen is approaching her credit union’s second go at Hispanic membership growth. The vice president of marketing for Iowa’s Community 1st Credit Union, Hagen believes one of the biggest lessons learned from the cooperative’s first attempt was that a single champion of the program is not enough.

    “We identified how important it would be to serve the Hispanic community back in 2007,” said Hagen. “When we lost the key person leading that effort, however, the program fizzled out. After continuing to evaluate the segment and truly understanding how underserved it is, we knew we had to try again.”

    President and CEO Greg Hanshaw explained that the calling to do more is rooted in the credit union’s 80-year history. “Our goal as an organization has always been to personify the credit union philosophy of people helping people. Although that can sound cliché, it’s the real deal around here. And it’s a huge part of why we felt years ago it was critically important to reach the Hispanic market.”

    CU Recognizes Need for Grassroots Leadership

    logo_2cThe credit union recognized a Hispanic member growth plan would need to be a cooperative-wide initiative supported by everyone from frontline staff to the C-suite. Yet, they also understood the importance of hiring an empathetic community member. This individual would help credit union staff better identify and overcome obstacles to engaging the Hispanic community. David Suarez joined the credit union as Bilingual Community Development Manager in June 2015. Suarez then helped recruit Edith Cabrera, the credit union’s first Hispanic board member.

    “When David came to the credit union, he did not sit back,” said Hagen. “He immediately identified those areas where we weren’t doing enough for the community and started building initiatives from scratch. He spearheaded partnership with Coopera to help us learn best practices and with local Hispanic organizations to get us connected to the community in a grassroots way.”

    According to Hagen, Suarez has a knack for explaining to community members how a credit union can help. “His message really resonates with the Hispanic people in the communities we serve.” The result has been close relationships with many credit union members, many of whom attribute their financial successes to his guidance.

    That knack for explaining extends to Suarez’s influence inside the credit union. “One thing I’ve learned from David is a lot of the folks in Iowa have come from cultures and backgrounds where they didn’t trust the financial system that was built to provide those types of services,” said Hanshaw. “So we have an opportunity to show what a not-for-profit cooperative is and how it is uniquely built to provide services to people who may not meet the right criteria at a traditional financial institution.”

    To read more about Community 1st all-in approach to Hispanic membership growth, download “Hispanic Member Growth Not Just for ‘Gateway States’ Anymore.”

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    Credit Union Adds Three Fresh Perspectives in One New Board Member

    Posted by on August 2, 2016

    Achieving a variety of inclusivity and diversity objectives is becoming more important for credit union boards of directors. One such board is that of Community 1st Credit Union in Ottumwa, Iowa. The Juntos Avanzamos-designated credit union recently welcomed Edith Cabrera-Tello to its board.
    Edith brings a unique perspective to the credit union’s leadership as the youngest director, as well as the only female and the only Latina on the board. We had the chance to sit down with Edith to chat about her appointment, as well as her insight on the important role credit unions play in the formation of good financial habits for today’s consumers.

    Eidth Linked InHow long have you been a member and board member of Community 1st?

    I’ve been a member of the credit union since 2011 and a board member since January 2016.

    What is your view of credit unions as a financial option for the Hispanic community?

    When my husband and I wanted to start our own business, we asked our bank for help. They denied our application for a loan. We then went to a credit union and received the support we were looking for. That’s when I learned more about credit unions and the services they offered.
    I also worked for a school as the Hispanic community outreach coordinator at the time. We would offer workshops and occasionally had someone from a credit union come talk about personal finances. That was a great opportunity for those in our community who are immigrants learn how credit unions could help us. They open doors for individuals simply by accepting an ITIN number (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number). The credit union we worked with also provided financial support to make the workshops happen. That’s something no bank had offered to do.

    What changes have you seen in how Community 1st serves its members and specifically its Hispanic members since you’ve been a board member?

    I have noticed how many more services the credit union is working to make more inclusive for our community. ITIN lending has been quite beneficial, but they are not stopping there. They are continuing to look for ways to improve. The leadership has hired the right people to assist the community, too, which is incredibly important.

    How has the work with Coopera and receiving the Juntos Avanzamos designation impacted outreach to the Hispanic community?

    The designation is not only helping the Hispanic community; it’s helping everyone in our area. A lot of that has to do with awareness and exposure to new things. Take for example, board members working to properly pronounce Juntos Avanzamos. You can see their desire to do so correctly. They have seen the importance of the designation and all the efforts that come with it. They understand that the better we serve our community, the greater return there will be on the investment.

    Could you describe your experience as a board member of a credit union from the moment you decided to volunteer until now?

    It’s been pretty good. I am the only woman, the youngest and the only Latina on the board. I feel comfortable, and the other board members help me when I need it. They have so many years combined experience, I am learning from them while hopefully they are learning from me. It’s been incredible to see how they take the time to help the credit union grow.

    What advice do you have for any potential Hispanic board members thinking about or having been approached to serve on the board of a credit union?

    We need diversity on credit union boards. Being involved on the board not only allows directors to have a say on decision making specific to the credit union; it also allows that individual to support the larger community.

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    Community 1st Credit Union Earns Juntos Avanzamos Designation

    Posted by on May 23, 2016

    The movement added another Juntos Avanzamos-designated credit union this spring. Welcome, Community 1st Credit Union!

    Comm JuntosThe designation, which translates to “Together, we advance,” is a national recognition of the work and commitment made to offer financial services to the Hispanic community. On May 5, 2016, we were thrilled to join Guadalupe Sanchez Salazar, Consulate General of Mexico, and other local dignitaries in Ottumwa, Iowa, to celebrate the designation with Community 1st Credit Union.

    For many Hispanics, navigating the U.S. financial system can be challenging. Credit unions make the process easier. Community 1st is leading the way and hopes to inspire other credit unions around the country to realize the importance of embracing Hispanic community initiatives.

    Community 1st is the first credit union in Iowa to receive the designation, which our firm and the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions (the Federation) recently expanded into a nationwide program. The cooperative worked with our team to set a strategic plan for becoming a fair, dignified and affordable option for the local Hispanic community.

    Community 1st is an exemplary financial institution that understands the importance of achieving internal readiness before launching into a Hispanic growth strategy. Notably, 10 percent of Community 1st’s more than 200 employees are bilingual.

    “As a credit union, we have a mission to serve underserved populations,” said Anne Hagen, Community 1st vice president of marketing. “We — all credit unions — are not-for-profit institutions. Part of our ‘profits,’ we give back to the community.”

    Even though most credit union leaders are aware of the growing Hispanic population in their fields of membership, many are are unsure how to begin serving this young, fast-growing, influential community. Half the battle is developing the right mindset within the credit union. The ultimate achievement is a collective state of mind in which the entire organization believes serving the Hispanic community is not only the right thing to do, but also a profitable, priority business strategy.

    Kudos to Community 1st for becoming the first credit union in Iowa to achieve this important milestone.

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