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  • Cooperative-wide Involvement Important to Growth Efforts

    Posted by on May 27, 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.

    When Greater Iowa Credit Union, headquartered in Ames, Ia., acquired two branch locations with large Hispanic membership populations, the senior leadership team knew the credit union had to step up its efforts to serve this important member segment. Focused on positively impacting its membership base, Greater Iowa implemented a Hispanic initiative, which started as a very marketing-centric approach and grew it to include full credit union involvement.

    The first step Greater Iowa took was to apply for the Credit Union Remittance Outreach Program (CUROP) grant from World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), Coopera and the Iowa Credit Union League (ICUL). At the time, Greater Iowa did not have a remittance program in place and knew it needed help to implement a successful one if it was to provide an affordable and convenient alternative for Hispanic members sending money to loved ones in Mexico. “Greater Iowa was one of only three Iowa credit unions accepted into the program that year,” said Michael Adams, Greater Iowa’s vice president of marketing and public relations. “It became the jumping off point for the credit union’s entire Hispanic-focused effort.”

    Adams became the point person for Greater Iowa’s external efforts, immersing himself in the initiative and leading the charge for the credit union’s Hispanic marketing, outreach and community-involvement programs. The company partnered with Coopera to guide them on next steps. “At Coopera’s recommendation, we refreshed our marketing collateral to be more focused on the Hispanic community’s financial needs, which included of course, Spanish translation,” said Adams.

    He continued, “We also developed a portal site that our Spanish-speaking members can use any time to gain immediate access to our bilingual materials. And, we started advertising on the regional Spanish-language TV channel, on two Spanish-language radio stations and in two Spanish-speaking newspapers. In addition, we put together a testimonial TV commercial featuring one of our Hispanic members from the Denison branch.”

    With Coopera’s guidance, Greater Iowa also gained insight into the cultural and lifestyle nuances of its Hispanic members. This knowledge enabled the credit union to further fine-tune its efforts. “We found with the Hispanic community that word-of-mouth referrals can really make or break a credit union’s success in a local market,” added Adams. “To increase opportunities to reach more members in the communities we serve, we began to take a more active approach toward earning positive word of mouth.”

    According to Adams, this included participating in Iowa’s annual Latino Heritage Festival; speaking at industry events, such as the 2012 Latino Credit Union Conference in San Diego, Calif.; participating in editorial opportunities with industry media and starting an annual scholarship program for first- and second-generation Hispanic high school students.

    Additionally, the credit union began to host its own member appreciation events throughout the year. For example, Greater Iowa’s East Des Moines location hosts an annual Fiesta de Navidad event during the Christmas season, and its Denison branch puts on an annual Cinco de Mayo event in May. “The first year we hosted our Fiesta de Navidad party, we had 300 people show up,” boasted Adams. “And, we’ve increased attendee turnout at the event every year since. We like doing these types of events because it gives us the opportunity to show our Hispanic members how much we appreciate their loyalty and trust in us.”

    On the internal front, Greater Iowa started the Employee Implementation Team (EIT) to help the credit union expand the Hispanic initiative from a marketing campaign to a company-wide program. According to Adams, the EIT has played a very important part in expanding Greater Iowa’s Hispanic efforts. This includes advocating necessary changes to the board, senior management and key staff. For example, at the recommendation of the EIT, Greater Iowa’s HR department became very instrumental in growing the credit union’s Hispanic opportunities. “They worked with our current staff to better understand how to serve Hispanic members,” said Adams, “as well as hired bilingual staff to build up our talent base. Today, 10 of our 85 employees are bilingual.”

    The EIT also initiated a monthly email communication to all employees, updating them on current issues affecting the Hispanic community, as well as on the credit union’s relevant products, services and programs. In addition, the team publishes a regular newsletter that provides in-depth details on the “who, what, when, where and why” of the credit union’s efforts. “These communications are so critical in helping us keep the importance of the Hispanic initiative in front of all employees,” said Adams.

    Through EIT encouragement, the credit union’s business and product development teams have become more involved with the initiative. According to Adams, each of these teams has recognized that in order to allow Hispanic immigrants to open a checking or savings account, apply for a loan or take advantage of the credit union’s other financial services, customer identification policies needed to adapt to include the matricula consulate cards.

    Going one step further, Greater Iowa also decided to offer a credit builder lending program, for individuals with either a SSN or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), branded the Préstamo Camino al Crédito or Path to Credit Loan— one of the first in Iowa. “This was a very controversial decision for Greater Iowa,” said Adams. “We knew the program might not be profitable right away because of the high cost of service in delivering these small dollar loans, but we saw great potential for its future revenue opportunities. To implement, we had to get full buy-in and support from our board and executive staff, as well as overcome some regulation challenges under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). We also had to lobby the program in the communities we serve to convince Hispanics that we wanted to work with them and support their financial needs.”

    Adams said that although the credit builder lending program took two years to implement, it became very popular in a short amount of time. To further help newer Hispanic members become more integrated into the U.S. financial system, Greater Iowa offers Spanish educational seminars on topics like building a credit history and how to use online banking services. The credit union recently rolled out Spanish online banking services, which include a mobile app that’s available in Spanish and allows members to view their balance and transfer funds from one account to the other, amongst other services. “The Hispanic community has been so appreciative of our efforts and personnel,” added Adams. “It’s become symbolic of our company’s approach to the Hispanic initiative.”

    According to Adams, the results of these efforts have indicated the success of Greater Iowa’s Hispanic initiative. “We have seen a change in character of our entire membership base,” said Adams. “Of the nearly 29,000 members we serve in 31 Iowa counties, approximately 8 percent claim Hispanic heritage, and we continue to see 3 percent quarter-to-quarter growth.”

    Adams concluded: “My advice to any credit union looking to court the Hispanic community is that the credit union needs both internal and external advocates, like its Board, senior leadership, staff, an EIT committee and partners such as Coopera, who understand the credit union’s vision and can continue to move the company’s Hispanic initiatives forward. These advocates are ideal resources for communicating with stakeholders, developing and nurturing relationships in the local communities and encouraging employees to follow best practices for successful implementation.”

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    Experiencing the Nuances of the Dominican Republic Culture First-Hand

    Posted by on March 19, 2013

    Guest blog post by Erin O’Hern, Compliance Attorney, PolicyWorks LLC

    In January, I had the opportunity to go to the Dominican Republic and participate in the International Credit Union Leadership Program with 11 other credit union professionals from across the U.S. It was an amazing experience that really opened my eyes to the unique culture that drives the Dominican Republic.

    Because many incorrectly assume all Hispanic people are similar, I wanted to share some of the insights I gained, into the Dominican culture specifically, during my trip.

    In the Dominican Republic, the definition of family is much broader than in the U.S. I may call my co-workers good friends, but the credit union employees at COOPBUENO call each other family — and they mean it. For example, the 8-year-old daughter of my host family could name each employee of the credit union, and even some of their relatives. For each person, she could also tell me funny stories about her personal experiences with them. When I was eight, I knew some of my dad’s co-workers (I even had nicknames for a few… “The One with the Beard” for example), but could never have told you each co-worker’s life story.

    Taking the time to socialize is very important in the Dominican Republic. Each morning, and before the employees leave in the evening, they stop at their co-workers’ desks to shake hands and ask a few questions about how things were at home or how the day was going. I worry I may have offended several employees at the credit union the first few days when I only said, “Hello, how are you?” and waved from across the lobby.

    And, the phrase “Mi casa es su casa” (My home is your home) is not an exaggeration in the Dominican Republic. It was not uncommon during my visit there for my host family and I to stop by a co-worker’s house to say hello and possibly share dinner. Then, of course, we visited the co-worker’s parent’s house, as well as the in-law’s house.

    In the Dominican Republic, it is very unusual for the next generation to move out of their parent’s house before they are married. In fact, the universities do not have dormitories because students either live at home or with a relative while they are studying. After attending a university, many graduates will live with their parents while they are beginning their careers.

    When I asked credit union employees about this, they all said it was a big part of their culture and a widely accepted practice. Although limited available housing and financial challenges do play a part in this custom, no one I talked with mentioned these as the main reason for remaining at home with their parents.

    When I mentioned to my host parents in the U.S. that a large portion of college students live either in dormitories on campus or in nearby apartments, and that young, unmarried professionals often live by themselves or with roommates, they asked why someone would need to move out of their parent’s house before marriage? They also suggested that it is too easy for young people to get into trouble by leaving their parent’s house so soon.

    Food is very important in the Dominican culture. Although, they do have specific dishes to represent a specific celebration or special gathering, such as sancocho (a multi-meat, multi vegetable stew), it is unusual for them not to have rice and beans for lunch every day. In the U.S., it would be difficult for many to select just a few food choices that are part of our cultural identity. For example, people may associate apple pie (or if you live in Iowa, corn) as an all-American food. But, it is easy to find people in the U.S. who do not like to eat apple pie. Interestingly enough, I could not find one person in the Dominican Republic who did not eat rice and beans. In fact, many were shocked to learn that before visiting their country, I had not eaten beans in over a year.

    I also observed that meal times are very different in the Dominican culture. Lunch is the largest meal in the Dominican Republic and can often last for several hours (depending on whether the person’s work hours allow it). And, meal times are another opportunity for families to spend time together. In fact, many people chose to eat at home as often as possible. For example, my host family’s children ate lunch in the home each day.

    Another reason food is important in Dominican culture is because they take pride in preparing it for their families. In many cases, meals are not as easy to prepare as they are in the U.S. because not every family has modern appliances in their kitchens. Even refrigeration can be an issue with power fluctuations, and families living in campos or barrios may not have electricity at all.

    The Dominican culture is a great example of hard working people that care deeply about their family, friends and neighbors. The spirit of the credit union movement compliments their community goals perfectly.

    Service to Hispanic members is not only critical for the success of today’s U.S. credit union movement, it is vital for bringing more Hispanic Americans — a largely underserved group — into the financial mainstream. Yet the Hispanic segment has many nuances; Dominican just one among many. This is part of the reason Hispanic outreach is so challenging — but also so rewarding. While it is difficult to better understand your Hispanic members, the potential reward is great.

    For 13 days in January 2013, 11 young credit union professionals were selected to participate in the International Credit Union Leadership Program, made possible by a grant from the U.S. State Department, World Council of Credit Unions and the support of the participants’ respective leagues and credit unions.

    Each was placed in a different credit union or credit union association across the Dominican Republic. From Iowa, Traci Stiles, Business Development Manager at Des Moines Metro Credit Union in Des Moines, Iowa, was placed at the newest credit union in the Dominican Republic, CoopOriental; Erin O’Hern, Compliance Attorney at PolicyWorks, was placed with COOPBUENO; Anna Peña, Client Account Coordinator at Coopera, was placed at COOPACRENE.

     Highlights from their experience will be shared in a series of blog posts.

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    Insights for Credit Unions from My Visit to the Dominican Republic

    Posted by on March 12, 2013

    Guest blog post by Traci Stiles, Business Development Manager, Des Moines Metro Credit Union

    In January, I was honored to be selected as one of 11 young credit union professionals from various parts of the U.S. to go to the Dominican Republic and participate in the International Credit Union Leadership Program. During the trip, I had the opportunity to visit the Dominican Republic’s newest credit union, CoopOriental, which is located in Higuey (a community located in La Altagracia, the easternmost providence in the Dominican Republic near Punta Cana).

    While at CoopOriental, I was able to closely observe daily practices, as well as review policies and procedures. I was greatly impressed by CoopOriental’s staff and operations and strongly believe their success can be attributed to four distinct best practices:

    – Strong relationship with business partners (SEGs)
    – Going directly to members
    – Extreme board involvement
    – Strong support from its league

    Strong relationship with business partners (SEGs)
    CoopOriental is not community-based credit union. Therefore, relationships with its SEGs or business partners are extremely important. To generate business for the credit union, the SEGs can pre-approve their own employees for loans, taking the decision-making component of the loan process out of the hands of the credit union.

    This works well at CoopOriental because the SEGs know their employees arguably better than the credit union could know them. This is particularly true when it comes to employees’ salary information. Having this insight into borrowers makes it easier for lenders to know if the requested loan amount is reasonable and if the borrower is a good credit risk. The other advantage is that SEGS can guarantee loan repayment to the credit union through employee payroll deductions.

    Although there are many challenges to making this concept work in the U.S., I do think creating a stronger bond and layer of trust between a credit union and its SEGs is critical. These relationships can offer much less risk in lending. And, SEGs are a great referral source for credit unions, especially when working with the Hispanic community.

    Going directly to the members
    Because it is hard for members in rural areas to make regular trips to credit union branches in the Dominican Republic,  many credit unions employ a messenger service (via moped) to pick up deposits and loan payments from members. The idea is simple: Go to the members, rather than expect them to come to you.

    This concept could be easily applied to U.S. credit unions with SEGs that are far away from the credit union’s headquarters or SEGs with a large concentration of members in one location. By offering messenger service, credit unions can offer a convenience that other financial institutions don’t offer them, making it easy and affordable to make deposits to their accounts and pay on their loans.

    Extreme board involvement
    During my time in Higuey, I stayed in the home of the president of CoopOriental’s board of directors. My host father visited the credit union daily to sign checks and discuss business with the manager. But he wasn’t the only board member actively involved in the credit union’s business. The entire board was very passionate about the credit union and actively promoted the credit union in the business community.

    What this involvement proved to me was the importance of having an active board, one with a deep understanding of the day-to-day operations of the credit union and a willingness to promote the credit union whenever possible.

    League involvement
    Just like leagues in the United States, the League in the Dominican Republic (AIRAC) strongly supports their member credit unions. Because CoopOriental is still new in the market, I saw the League support their business through regular staff training and access to technology.

    For 13 days in January 2013, 11 young credit union professionals were selected to participate in the International Credit Union Leadership Program, made possible by a grant from the U.S. State Department, World Council of Credit Unions and the support of the participants’ respective leagues and credit unions.

    Each was placed in a different credit union or credit union association across the Dominican Republic. From Iowa, Traci Stiles, Business Development Manager at Des Moines Metro Credit Union in Des Moines, Iowa, was placed at the newest credit union in the Dominican Republic, CoopOriental; Erin O’Hern, Compliance Attorney at PolicyWorks, was placed with CoopBUENO; Anna Peña, Client Account Coordinator at Coopera, was placed at COOPACRENE.

    Highlights from their experience will be shared in a series of blog posts.

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    Industry Recognitions for CEO Miriam De Dios

    Posted by on August 8, 2012

    Congratulations to our CEO Miriam De Dios for her acceptance into the World Council of Credit Union’s Young Credit Union People Program (WYCUP)! Miriam’s scholarship was awarded at the 2012 World Credit Union Conference recently held in Gdańsk, Poland.

    The WYCUP annual scholarship is given to only five nominees each year who are under the age of 35 and have each made significant contributions to the development of their own credit unions or regional/national credit union systems, as well as have demonstrated the potential to employ their unique talents at the international level.

    Miriam was nominated for the honor by the Iowa Credit Union League (ICUL).

    “Miriam is a strong representative of the credit union movement’s very promising future,” said Patrick Jury, president and CEO of ICUL. “We were happy to nominate her for the honor and are thrilled to learn she has been selected from such an impressive group of nominees.”

    “I am so honored to receive this award and to be recognized for the work that Coopera does to assist the underserved Hispanic community in the U.S. obtain dignified financial services through credit unions,” Miriam told us. “There is tremendous opportunity for U.S. credit unions to serve our largely underserved Hispanic communities, and I am pleased that a renowned organization like WOCCU recognizes the growth opportunity that this presents for the U.S. credit union movement. I dedicate this award to Coopera’s founder and late CEO, Warren Morrow who turned his personal passion for serving the Hispanic community into the successful organization that Coopera is today.”

    At the same time, Miriam also received news that she has been elected to serve on the Board of Directors for the Network of Latino Credit Unions & Professionals (NLCUP), a group of credit unions and professionals dedicated to promoting credit union services to the Hispanic community. Miriam has been elected to serve a 2-year term on the Board.

    “NLCUP was specifically formed to promote the credit union philosophy within the Hispanic community,” says Miriam. “As a senior advisor on the CUNA Hispanic Outreach Committee, CEO of Coopera and member of the NLCUP Board, I plan to leverage the strengths of these organizations to better help our credit union clients with their Hispanic outreach efforts.”

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