The league invited Claude Rwaganje, executive director of Community Financial Literacy, based out of Portland, Maine, to enlighten attendees about why “New Americans” balk at the idea of traditional financial services, and what can be done to ease their concerns and engage with them (Weekly Update Feb. 4).
To Rwaganje, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, it begins with learning their stories.
“To conduct business with these New Americans, it’s important to understand the background of the refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants here in Maine,” Rwaganje said.
Many of these people come from war-torn countries and from places where financial institutions are far from trusted organizations, he said.
“In their home countries, these people cannot often get their basic needs met: healthcare, food, and shelter,” Rwaganje added. “Financial services are not always top of mind when [you are] new to the United States where you can get your most basic needs met without being a legal citizen.”
To engender a level of comfort with these individuals, credit unions must build a trustworthy and accommodating operating environment. And building that trust, Rwaganje said, requires reaching out to these individuals, rather than waiting for them to walk through the door.
Additionally, it may be necessary to hire members of the community with whom refugees and immigrants can relate. Financial counseling and education, he added, should never be overlooked because many have never had the luxury of budgeting or controlling their spending.
“Never assume,” he said. “Share the products and services you offer as well as review the benefits of membership. They are new to this country and might not know all of the benefits and products you offer.”