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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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    University Puts Itself Under the Inclusion Microscope

    Posted by on April 7, 2016

    isu (2)My alma mater, Iowa State University (ISU), has begun to examine how it can improve diversity and inclusion among its students and staff. Naturally, it’s an initiative about which our entire team is excited and happy to support however we can.

    This spring, I had the terrific opportunity to share my student experience at ISU, as well as my thoughts on how the university can become even better at supporting multi-cultural students and staff. What follows is an excerpt of the article I contributed to the university’s alumni publication, Visions.

    This particular issue is packed with insights from other passionate ISU supporters and students. Many of their thoughts are applicable to the credit union environment, as well. So, if you have a few minutes and are curious as to the ways in which multi-cultural consumers experience different facets of their life at different stages of their journey, I’d encourage you to give it a read.

    My quest toward a college degree was far from a given for me. As the daughter of foreign-born parents who hadn’t attended college in Mexico nor the U.S., I knew it was up to me to own the responsibility. I was fortunate to have friends and advisors at Perry (Iowa) High School to guide me through the entrance exam, application and financial aid processes. Together, we navigated what could otherwise have been a long, confusing road. 

    I’m sharing this story because I believe it’s an experience shared by many first generation Latino Iowans. 

    I’m filled with gratitude as I as I think about ISU’s courage in choosing to ask the question: How can we be better [at attracting and serving Latino students]?” Imagine ISU as the premier four-year university attracting, retaining and graduating young, influential multi-cultural students.

    Even though more multi-cultural students are attending college than ever before, they tend to choose two-year degree programs because they attend school part-time, live outside campus and have outside responsibilities (such as providing and caring for family members). If this dynamic is altered and multi-cultural students begin to feel part of a larger whole, I believe they, along with their families, will create thriving communities that perpetuate growth and change across the state and nationwide.

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    Poverty Simulation Inspires Awareness, Empathy among Credit Union Leaders

    Posted by on October 6, 2015


    As part of the poverty simulation, Dora Camargo from Veridian CU experiences applying for social service benefits

    New consumer profiles are emerging as key to the growth of credit unions, including the growing Hispanic market, immigrants, low-income households and Millennials. While the movement’s leaders may clearly see the need to adapt products, services and strategic plans to a new type of member, the resources to do it may not always be there.

    Fortunately, there are programs designed to help, specifically the low income (LI) and community development financial institution (CDFI) designation programs.

    This was one of several insights coming out of a collaborative round-table event we were proud to host alongside the Iowa Credit Union Foundation (ICUF) and the Iowa Credit Union League (ICUL). The topic was building understanding of the financial need of emerging markets and learning about resources available to best serve both existing and prospective members who comprise these critical consumer segments.

    One of the things we discussed during the round table was that all the resources in the world will not help move the needle if credit unions don’t first understand the market they are trying to serve. To this end, attendees had the opportunity to participate in a live poverty simulation. The poverty simulation, or Life Simulation, is designed to help credit union employees, volunteers and leadership begin to understand what it might be like to live in a typical low-income family, one that is trying to survive from month-to-month.

    In the simulation, participants assumed the roles of families whose members are unemployed, homeless, living on disability or raising grandchildren on a fixed income. At the end of the exercise, participants were more aware of the daily realities faced by many American families. In a post-event survey, 100 percent of attendees rated the poverty simulation very good or excellent, and ICUF Executive Director Jaimie Miller says plans are underway to offer the event to more Iowa credit unions in the future.

    One attendee had this to say about the experience: “I was able to take away from the poverty session how frustrating it can be for people trying to find the right places for help. As a credit union professional, I think we can be more empathetic towards these members and also educate ourselves to learn and understand the resources available to them so we can help them even more.”

    The poverty simulation was accompanied by a panel discussion. Our expert panelists included Joann Johnson, superintendent of credit unions in the state of Iowa; John Parks, CEO/manager at Sioux Valley Community Credit Union; Traci Stiles, business development manager at Des Moines Metro Credit Union; and Dale Owen, CEO/president of Ascentra Credit Union. They spoke about benefits of the low income and CDFI designations such as grant funding opportunities and also shared how these designations fit in with their work to better serve their entire field of membership.

    Attendees were surprised to learn many Iowa credit unions, including Des Moines Metro Credit Union and Sioux Valley Community Credit Union, have already earned LI designations.

    They also were excited by the types of programs these credit unions were in the process of developing or had developed thanks to their special statuses. Financial counseling and education, new technology and an expansion of loan programs are helping more cooperatives grow while more consumers find well-intentioned and fair services designed especially for them. In addition, if a credit union has a Hispanic growth program or is looking to start one, these designations can help further those efforts.

    A strategic Hispanic growth program can become an important part of a credit union’s CDFI designation action plan. If we can assist you with the development of such a plan, please get in touch.

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    Success Happens Over Time

    Posted by on September 10, 2013

    For Affinity Credit Union, headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa., success with Hispanic outreach and membership growth efforts did not happen overnight. The 12,000-member credit union started its outreach through a series of community sponsorships, and over the years, has grown efforts to become a full business development initiative.

    According to Affinity CEO Sandy Robinson, Affinity recognized a need for its credit union to better serve Hispanics in the local Des Moines market several years ago. In consulting regularly with Coopera, Robinson and Affinity came to understand that to be able to relate to new Hispanic members, staff needed to immerse themselves in the culture. “This is a culture where trust building is essential,” said Robinson. “Only after Hispanic community members understand you are there to help them can you begin showing them all the great things you can do to improve their lives.”

    The credit union began by forming a mostly external task force made up of employees and local small business owners to act as an advisory council to the board and the staff. “Our first attempt at the task force fell apart,” admitted Robinson, “I believe we started it too early in our Hispanic efforts, and perhaps not having a diverse enough group, was the reason our first attempt was unsuccessful. But, we regrouped and tried again. We focused first on community sponsorships, such as the annual Latino Heritage Festival and local soccer teams, and then expanded our efforts.”

    During this time, Affinity added staff, growing from two bilingual employees to five, and split its internal task force into two groups — an employee one focused on implementation, as well as a management one focused on strategy. And, the credit union implemented Coopera’s cultural immersion training program for its employees. “To best understand the Hispanic culture, we needed to become part of it,” said Robinson. “We took employees to outings at local Hispanic grocery stores and restaurants, asking them to interact with the store employees in Spanish. We also made a point to join local organizations that help further our outreach to the Hispanic community.”

    In partnership with Coopera, other efforts have included: The translation of its marketing collateral and branch signage into Spanish, a dedicated page on its website in Spanish, advertising on the local Hispanic radio station and a dedicated Spanish-language Facebook page.

    Also with Coopera’s guidance, Affinity has made a point to offer products specifically tailored to the needs of Hispanic members, including a credit builder loan program, which has resulted in a significant amount of new business for the credit union. According to Robinson, Affinity also discovered that its Hispanic members were more likely to have loans than its non-Hispanic members. “In June alone, we wrote 10 new loans and opened six new accounts for Hispanic members,” said Robinson. “Of those six new accounts, five of them were referred to us through our radio advertisements, and one was referred to us by an employer. Referrals and other word of mouth resources are the best leads for new business within the Hispanic market.”

    Since November of 2011, Robinson notes that Affinity’s Hispanic membership has grown 32 percent, and that 55.8 percent of the credit union’s Hispanic members are under the age of 40, with the average age being 36.

    Through Affinity’s growth and successes, there have been many lessons learned. According to Robinson, any credit union that may be considering a relationship with the Hispanic community should plan carefully and implement thoughtfully. “It is important to get buy-in from all levels of the credit union team — from the board and management teams to your employees,” said Robinson. “Also, lay out a detailed plan of how you will move forward with your Hispanic initiatives. Don’t be afraid to try new things in order to succeed, and if an effort doesn’t get the results you’re hoping for, try something else.

    “Success in doing business with the Hispanic community takes time,” concluded Robinson. “Don’t get frustrated if you don’t see immediate results. It happens slowly and with a lot of effort on both the part of the credit union, as well as the new members you are targeting. Be patient, be genuine, and you will achieve results.”

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    Immigrant Entrepreneurs, Innovation and Welcoming Initiatives

    Posted by on August 13, 2013

    The following content was written and provided to Coopera by The Immigration Policy Center.

    In Iowa, there is no doubt that immigrant entrepreneurs and innovators play an important role. Immigrant entrepreneurs bring in additional revenue, create jobs, and contribute significantly to the state’s economy. Highly skilled immigrants are vital to the state’s innovation economy, and to the metropolitan areas within the state, helping to boost local economies. Furthermore, local government, business, and non-profit leaders recognize the importance of immigrants in their communities and support immigration through local “welcoming” and integration initiatives.

    Immigrant entrepreneurs contribute significantly to Iowa’s economy.
    From 2006 to 2010, there were 4,823 new immigrant business owners in Iowa, and in 2010, 3.1 percent of all business owners in the state were foreign-born.

    – In 2010, new immigrant business owners had total business revenue of $215.8 million, which is 2.8 percent of all business income in the state.

    Highly skilled immigrants are vital to Iowa’s innovation economy.
    In 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor certified 2,089 H-1B labor certification applications in Iowa, with an average annual wage of $66,422, which is higher than Iowa’s median household income of $50,451 or per capita income of $26,110.

    – High-skilled immigrant workers contribute to the success of many Iowa-based companies and institutions with a significant presence in the state, including Aviva USA Corporation, UST Global Inc., NCS Pearson Inc., the University of Iowa, Tejase Technologies Inc. and Rockwell Collins Inc.

    – The Des Moines metropolitan area had 767 H-1B high-skilled visa requests in 2010-2011, with 79.9 percent of H-1B visa-holders working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) occupations.

    – The Iowa City metropolitan area had 320 H-1B high-skilled visa requests in 2010-2011, with 59.2 percent of H-1B visa-holders working in STEM occupations.

    – The Cedar Rapids metropolitan area had 252 H-1B high-skilled visa requests in 2010-2011, with 80.6 percent of H-1B visa-holders working in STEM occupations.

    – An expansion of the high-skilled visa program would create an estimated 3,200 new jobs in Iowa by 2020. By 2045, this expansion would add around $1.2 billion to Gross State Product and increase personal income by more than $1 billion.

    While the numbers are compelling, they don’t tell the whole story.
    In Marshalltown and similar Iowa communities, immigrants are bringing new life to small towns that might otherwise have begun withering away. Marshalltown’s Chamber of Commerce, in particular, is actively trying to recruit additional members from immigrant-owned businesses.

    – In the southeast Iowa town of Ottumwa, Jose Rodas and Elsa Urrutea are examples of new immigrant business owners. Rodas, who originally came to Iowa to work for Cargill, recently opened his own tortilla shop. His tortilleria is one of 25 new Latino-owned businesses in the town. Urrutea, who grew up homeless in El Salvador, now owns her own bakery in Ottumwa.

    – In small towns such as Ottumwa, immigrant entrepreneurs have opened small “mom-and-pop” retail establishments, restaurants, auto repair shops, and even pupuserias (which make the Salvadoran corn-dough delicacy). Such business establishments foster local interaction and commerce, helping breathe new life into small towns that might otherwise experience decline.

    Some localities have begun recognizing and supporting immigration through local “welcoming” and integration initiatives.
    Welcoming Iowa, a project of the Iowa Immigration Education Coalition, is a “grassroots effort committed to creating a more welcoming atmosphere in Iowa’s communities by promoting mutual respect and cooperation between foreign born and U.S. born residents.”

    “The ultimate goal of Welcoming Iowa is to create an atmosphere – community by community – in which immigrants are more likely to integrate into the social fabric of their new hometowns.”

    Iowa Center for Immigrant Leadership and Integration: An initiative to help guide and prepare Iowa communities and businesses as they accommodate immigrant and refugee newcomers living and working in Iowa.

    The center provides consultation for community leadership, “conducts research related to issues facing newcomers and communities, develops initiative training programs for business and industry, and educates Iowans concerning the needs, challenges and opportunities of their new immigrant neighbors, co-workers and employees.”

    The Center provides programming that “incorporates a strong appreciation for the critical role newcomers play in ensuring the long-term social and economic vitality of Iowa’s businesses and communities.”

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