A decade ago, the roots of Coopera were planted by a visionary credit union leader with big dreams for the future. Warren Morrow saw more than 45 million Hispanic people, each working to enrich their communities across the country.
He asked, “How can credit unions become providers of choice for dignified financial services in this emerging community? How can the credit union industry better serve this segment – the largest, fastest-growing, youngest and most financially underserved minority group in the United States?”
Rather than wait for those questions to be answered, Warren set out to answer them. His enthusiasm for improving the financial lives of Hispanic consumers was contagious. As more leaders in the credit union movement saw the opportunities, Coopera began to grow.
Over its 10-year history, Coopera has worked with more than 200 credit unions, credit union system organizations and non-credit unions located in 30 states across the country and has served more than 1,000,000 Hispanic consumers. The firm applies the diverse expertise and skill sets of its leadership to carry out the vision of Coopera’s founder.
Within its first year, Coopera, in partnership with the Iowa Credit Union League and Iowa Credit Union Foundation, launched a state-wide asset-building and savings account program for working Iowans and partnered with credit union associations in New York and Louisiana to mobilize more cooperatives around the mission of serving Hispanic members.
By the end of 2009, Texas, Nebraska and Georgia credit union leagues, as well as the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) had joined in the mission. Together, CUNA, the leagues and Coopera built tools, conducted research and created educational programs.
As the first decade of the new Millennium was coming to a close, CUNA and Coopera teamed to create El Poder es Tuyo (The Power is Yours), the only Spanish-language personal finance website for Hispanic credit union members. Today, the site reaches Hispanic members in more than 14 states across the country.
Building tools to improve the financial lives of Hispanic consumers continued. In 2001, Coopera partnered with its payments processing sister company TMG, now a part of CO-OP Financial Services, to build a prepaid card especially for the unique needs of the Hispanic consumer. The card was rated as the 5th Most Affordable Prepaid Card by NerdWallet.
Five years into its mission, the Coopera team lost its founder when he passed away unexpectedly. Yet Warren’s crystal clear vision continued to guide the leaders of this fast-moving company.
California and Nevada credit unions got on board in 2012, partnering with Coopera to study the Hispanic consumer segment and create multi-state educational opportunities for credit union leaders.
As Coopera honed its research and training skills, it became evident these were core competencies that could benefit even more cooperatives throughout the country. As a result, the company launched a series of Hispanic Market Analysis tools and an online resource library for professionals who wanted to grow their own Hispanic market expertise. Credit unions using these analysis tools have seen annualized Hispanic membership grow nearly four times as fast as that of non-Hispanic members. What’s more, checking and lending penetration rates at these credit unions have increased twice as fast as that of non-Hispanic members.
In 2015, Coopera’s decade of achievement was recognized alongside its AMC family of companies with one of the highest honors the credit union industry has developed, the Herb Wegner Memorial award.
Over the past several years, Coopera and its partner the Federation have put the Juntos Avanzamos designation on a national stage. A signal to Hispanic consumers that a credit union has their best interests in mind, the designation is another way to communicate credit union’s passion for and willingness to serve the Hispanic community.
Over Coopera’s 10 year history, many strategic partners have helped raise awareness of the struggles faced by Hispanic consumers, but also the great opportunity they represent. These organizations have helped hundreds of credit unions realize the influence and the value of what remains America’s largest, fast-growing, young and financially underserved minority group.
It’s a message that’s expanding far beyond the credit union space. Executives and business leaders in insurance, health care, higher education and many others are answering the call to adapt to the unique needs of a multi-faceted Hispanic consumer segment.
In just under a decade, the Hispanic community grew from 45 million to more than 57 million.
10 million in 10 years. That’s explosive growth. That’s amazing opportunity.
Many of that 57 million are still seeking the American dream. And, credit unions are helping them achieve that, one member at a time. In fact, 25 percent of Hispanics in the U.S. are now credit union members.
Coopera’s team of Hispanic market experts is also beginning to work with businesses and organizations beyond financial services. Its leaders, which include De Dios, Client Relations Director Alba Perez, Client Support Specialist Lizeth Aquino and Project Assistant Kenia Calderon, are applying their knowledge of emerging markets to engagement with other industries, as well.
As more businesses, organizations and community leaders are inspired by the credit union movement’s success, Coopera will be there, ready to partner for the success of their organizations and the greater Hispanic community.Leave a comment
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.”Leave a comment
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
The 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.”Leave a comment
Credit Union ‘Jump Starts’ Staff Passion for Hispanic Member Service with Immersion Exercises, Training
Buy-in from management was a critical first step to developing the Prime Financial Credit Union’s (PFCU) Hispanic member growth plan. And it did not come easily. After all, the credit union was still recovering from a conservatorship, and prudent board members wanted to be sure the plan would be strategic and well-executed.
“We saw this large population that really needed our products and services, and we wanted to do it right. Just throwing up a sign that said, “We speak Spanish,’ was not going to cut it,” said Colleen Jakubowski, PFCU’s chief operating officer.
To lay the groundwork for their strategic roadmap, the credit union began working with Coopera on a series of surveys to reveal the true needs of the Hispanic community in Milwaukee. Coopera also spoke with PFCU’s staff to uncover sentiments employees may not want to share with the credit union’s leadership.
“Coopera’s staff took us through an immersion exercise where we went to a local market for lunch,” said Jakubowski. “We were challenged to speak Spanish the entire time and to get to know people in the community. It was something of a cultural awakening for us. That activity really jump-started the passion. We learned a lot about a culture we didn’t know, and came away understanding that’s exactly what we can do for our members.”
PFCU Mobilizes Team of Volunteers
Training bilingual employees to not only speak the right words but also have the cultural awareness to adequately explain financial products was critically important, as well. In January 2016, PFCU mobilized a team of 13 volunteers who are now leading the execution of the credit union’s Hispanic growth plan. Divided into subgroups, such as marketing, Spanish language and compliance, the team is playing an instrumental role in the development and launch of PFCU’s new branch location.
PFCU has also developed a business curriculum for a class of Spanish speaking employees who want to expand their knowledge of the U.S. financial system vocabulary. According to PFCU Director of Organizational Development Amy Goratowski, these individuals are highly engaged and passionate about continually improving their skills.
Among the challenges Jakubowski and Goratowski cite is difficulty containing staff excitement about the prospect of gaining new members from the Hispanic community. “We can’t do it all,” said Goratowski. “We still have to be frugal, but the great thing about this community is word of mouth. Once they become aware of all we have to offer, it will be huge.”
To read more about PFCU’s Hispanic membership growth strategy, download “Hispanic Member Growth Not Just for ‘Gateway States’ Anymore.”Leave a comment
Something was changing in the community. The staff of Milwaukee’s Prime Financial Credit Union (PFCU) could feel it. More visitors to the 90-year-old cooperative were asking for Spanish translators and fewer came equipped with the basics of U.S. financial system awareness.
“It got to the point where it was a topic of conversation at every meeting,” said Colleen Jakubowski, PFCU’s chief operating officer. “We knew there was a Hispanic community here. But we didn’t know how large it was, nor how underserved many of the members of that community were.”
Her colleague, PFCU Director of Organizational Development Amy Goratowski, agreed: “Over the years, we had noticed less volume in our branches. It became clear we needed to devote a location to the Hispanic community – somewhere they would feel immediately welcome and comfortable. We’re excited to be breaking ground on that branch as we speak.”
Talk with Jakubowski and Goratowski and you can feel their excitement about the future of Hispanic membership growth at PFCU. The pair have a self-described justice mentality that has intrinsically motivated them to pursue improvements in the way the cooperative serves this influential and growing segment of Milwaukee – a city that saw its Hispanic numbers rise nearly 175 percent from 1990 to 2014. “We really get excited by the prospect of making things better for people,” said Jakubowski. “It’s what we like to do.”
Rich Experience Adapting Products and Services
Because the credit union serves a high percentage (70 percent) of members who reside in low-income neighborhoods, there is rich experience adapting products, training employees and making community connections already within PFCU. Jakubowski and Goratowski believe these competencies are helping them achieve early success in their Hispanic membership growth plan. “By serving segments that need special assistance or special products, we are actually getting back to our roots,” said Jakubowski. “Bigger financial institutions are about making money. That’s not us. We’re about reaching those people that need us most.”
Getting back to the credit union’s roots was an objective that came after a lot of soul searching. The only Wisconsin credit union to survive conservatorship, PFCU emerged ready to recommit to the right people. “We took a hard look at everything we were doing,” said Jakubowski, who noted the credit union is fully staffed at 55 with four active branches and a strong net worth. “What we discovered is we were doing a better job chasing people who maybe didn’t need us rather than serving those who did. These were the people we saw every day.”
Among the discoveries made during what Jakubowski calls the “enlightening period” was that many of the credit union’s most loyal members were not taking advantage of beneficial products, such as low-rate credit cards or fee-free checking accounts. As a result, leadership began to seek out grants and designations that could help them execute on their reignited mission to help community members become and stay financially healthy. They achieved a low-income designation from the NCUA, which has allowed them freedom to pursue new objectives, such as those inside the Hispanic membership growth plan.
Products Designed to Build Credit Histories
Many of the products and services already on the PFCU roadmap are ideal for the local Hispanic community, Coopera research has found. Payday loans, for example, are providing a much-need service as new regulatory requirements are expected to shutter some payday lending businesses. A responsible lender, the credit union will only allow one loan at a time, and each loan will be capped at $500. Because the credit union reports on these loans to the credit bureaus, members who take advantage of the product will be building credit histories, an important step to establishing financial wellness.
PFCU’s credit rebuilder account, too, is a great match for many unbanked people in Milwaukee. Members can open the account immediately with zero deposit down, and there is no minimum balance. A portion of the funds goes to pay off debts, which helps members increase their credit scores. The credit union also offers certificates for as low as $250 and other loans for as low as $500.
To learn more about the strategic evolution of PFCU’s Hispanic membership growth strategy, download “Hispanic Member Growth Not Just for ‘Gateway States’ Anymore.”Leave a comment
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.Leave a comment
Also known as cundinas, sans or quinelas, tandas are informal borrowing and lending circles that provide an alternative to a traditional savings account and a loan from a financial institution. Quite simply, tandas allow for a short-term, no-interest loan and savings account among friends and family.
Growing up in California and Iowa, my parents participated in tandas with their friends, co-workers and neighbors. Before they established accounts at financial institutions (and even a few times after), my parents turned to tandas to save and borrow money outside of the financial mainstream.
Tandas typically work in the same fashion — a group of people already acquainted with one another collect money to help each other financially. A leader, whom is acquainted with tandas, gets the group together and is responsible for collecting, holding and distributing the money. The leader usually sets the rules aimed at benefiting the entire group, including the amount of money collected, when the money will be collected and the number of people in the group. Once these parameters are established, the leader randomly chooses the order of whom is going to receive the money. Most often, tandas distribute money through a raffle or make the decision based on the individual(s) believed to need the money most.
Here’s an example of how a traditional tanda could work: The tanda is formed with 10 friends and family. Each member contributes $100 every two weeks to the group leader. At the end of the month, one participant gets the “pot” of $2,000. This process continues until each member has received the pot.
The tanda played a very important role in my family life. Each time that my parents borrowed from the tanda, the money was earmarked for specific expenses, such as furniture for our first house, immigration expenses as we were going through the process of adjusting our status in the U.S. or trips to Mexico to visit family.
I remember taking turns going with either my mother or my father to the tanda group leader’s house when we moved to Iowa. She was a neighbor — someone everyone in the Latino community knew and trusted. The tanda leader was also an entrepreneur. She sold jewelry and home interior products to the community, which my parents also bought from her. My parents would give her their $100 payment in cash, usually after my father got his paycheck cashed from work. The tanda leader would then store the cash in a little cash box in her office desk and would note my parent’s payment in a notebook.
I also witnessed my parents pulling a number from a box, letting them know when it would be their turn to receive the lump sum from the tanda.
When I was a teenager, my parents began to entrust me with delivering the $100 payments. As the oldest child in my family, this was a big responsibility but seemed very simple to do. Throughout my childhood, I did not realize that there was an alternative to saving and borrowing money at a traditional financial institution because I was used to seeing my parents cash their checks, borrow and save completely outside of the financial mainstream.
Tandas were convenient, they involved people that we knew and trusted, and they helped my family out financially when we needed it.
Although very small in nature, tandas are making big headlines. NPR’s Changing Lives of Women series and Code Switch have each covered the topic in recent months. The article, Lending Circles Help Latinas Pay Bills and Invest, is one example. Modern tandas are aiming to bridge a cultural custom with the credit union experience.
To leverage the benefits and emotional, cultural and community connections of the tanda on a larger scale, Coopera worked with Travis Credit Union (TCU) based in Vacaville, Calif. through a grant from the National Credit Union Foundation, to create the modern version of a tandas — the New Era Tanda Program. This program was specifically designed to bring the concept of the tanda to the credit union, where people helping people is the organization’s primary mission.
In addition to supporting Latino families save and borrow, the program helps individuals open accounts, build a credit history and receive financial education.
Participants in the program contribute on a monthly basis to a shared savings account and also receive a group share-secured loan to help save for a down-payment on a vehicle. After satisfactory completion of the program, each participant is eligible for a TCU credit-building credit card and/or auto loan. The program uses a grassroots and culturally relevant approach tailored to the local Latino community.
TCU’s program is just one example of how tandas can work in the mainstream financial system. Through modern tandas, credit unions of any size and in any location can realize tremendous opportunity to engage with the Latino community, as well as to bridge cultural traditions and customs with good financial alternatives.Leave a comment
Warren Morrow: July 26, 1977 – February 15, 2012
Born to an American father and Mexican mother in Mexico City, Coopera Founder Warren Morrow’s identity and love for his Latino community was shaped in part by his experiences as a young person assimilating into the U.S. culture; specifically by the lasting impression left on him as he watched his mother struggle in her transition to American life.
On February 15, 2012, Warren’s family, friends, coworkers, the credit union movement and the Latino community suffered an inexplicable tragedy when Warren passed away at the age of 34. As we remember the passing of Warren on this tragic date, there will be much sadness and disbelief relived by the many people Warren touched, but there will also be many things to reflect on and be thankful for as we look back on his immense impact.
Growing up, Warren came upon credit unions unintentionally, as many of us do. A Tucson-based credit union helped him and his father obtain a car loan when he was starting college. The loan paid for the car he would drive from Arizona to Iowa as he started attending Grinnell College.
In his 34 years, Warren was nothing short of amazing. He accomplished what many of us only dream of. Not only was Warren the founder and CEO of Coopera, he was a visionary leader with a selfless heart.
When Coopera was started, the concept was ahead of its time in the credit union industry; it was a progressive idea coming from progressive leaders in the state of Iowa. While Iowa isn’t typically thought of as a Hispanic mecca, it continues to be a gateway for Hispanic immigrants, similar to other Midwest states. Today, Coopera continues to pursue its mission of partnering with people, businesses and communities for new economic opportunity by helping credit unions across the nation serve the Latino community as an opportunity for growth.
Our late founder would be thrilled to witness Coopera’s growth, adding 12 new clients in as many months last year. He’d be inspired to see us chasing down our strategic objectives, knocking down hurdles and pursuing his vision with gusto. And he’d be humbled to know we have been joined in our mission by Gustavo Grüber as Coopera Vice President. I see many similarities between Gustavo and Warren, as both exude warmth, fire and a contagious “can do” spirit.
Warren was a proponent and a believer in working together for a common good. He catalyzed a spark within the credit union industry. He brought awareness and created momentum around the Hispanic market being a solution to the growth challenges of credit unions.
Warren once said, “Working to demonstrate the value of underserved and disenfranchised communities is a lifelong mission that will always motivate me.” His passion for serving the community certainly helped reinvigorate the unique credit union philosophy of ‘people helping people,’ and his work has left an indelible mark on the entire credit union movement.Leave a comment
The Coopera Prepaid Reloadable Visa® Card has been ranked by NerdWallet.com as one of the most affordable, cost-effective prepaid cards available to consumers. The online financial planning resource’s ranking is based on the Coopera Card’s low fees as compared to more than 70 other prepaid card options on the market, including two competing prepaid card products also specifically targeted to Hispanic cardholders.
The Coopera Card is also the only prepaid reloadable card in NerdWallet.com’s top five ranking that was specifically designed for the Hispanic cardholder and provides a seamless cardholder experience in the language of choice of the Hispanic cardholder.
Because no two prepaid card products are exactly the same, especially when it comes to fees, like monthly, ATM or transaction fees, NerdWallet.com built an interactive prepaid card comparison tool to help consumers standardize prepaid cards’ disclosures, fee structures and terms and conditions. The tool gives consumers a tailored, at-a-glance understanding of each card’s cost structure and ranks a prepaid card’s affordability based on:
One of the ways the Coopera Card keeps costs low, and its ranking on NerdWallet.com high, is by offering fee-free cash loads at the cardholder’s credit union, by direct deposit of payroll checks or through online transfers from an existing checking or savings account, as well as from other credit or prepaid cards. And for the cardholder’s convenience, Coopera Card cardholders can also load cash on their cards via Visa ReadyLink merchants for a fee.
To see how the Coopera Card compares to other prepaid cards, visit: http://www.nerdwallet.com/prepaidLeave a comment
Coopera is pleased to announce the newest member of its executive management team — Gustavo Grüber! A native of Caracas, Venezuela, Gustavo brings more than 20 years of multicultural experience in marketing, business development and operations to Coopera, making him the perfect fit for his new role as Coopera’s vice president.
We’re excited to welcome Gustavo to the Coopera team. In his past roles at RR Donnelley/Banta, PSA Directo, Russ Reid, Hispanic Direct and Alaniz, he pioneered innovative marketing techniques that helped his clients achieve their acquisition, retention and renewal goals. His insight and efforts will offer Coopera and our clients new opportunities for Hispanic community outreach efforts.
In addition to his corporate experience, Gustavo has also served as the Chair of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) “Directo” Council for Hispanic Marketing and was the founder of the Multicultural Marketing Group in the Chicago Association of Direct Marketing (CADM). He has also been a featured speaker at multicultural marketing conferences and has published articles on Hispanic marketing in trade publications.
In his new role at Coopera, Gustavo will be responsible for leading the company’s business development and sales strategies, brand awareness, product presence and revenue generation, as well as will serve as a key touch point for the company’s existing partners and prospective clients.
Gustavo is a great fit for Coopera, both professional and personally. We look forward what he will help us accomplish as the company works to address the complex challenges associated with Hispanic marketing and develop effective solutions to reach and serve our target audience.Leave a comment