Something was changing in the community. The staff Prime Financial Credit Union 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,” says Colleen Jakubowski, chief operating officer of $111 million asset credit union in Cudahy, Wis. “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.”
Amid those enthusiastic discussions, a member of the Prime Financial marketing team brought forward research on the make-up of the local community.
The explosive growth of the Hispanic consumer segment was an eye-opening finding.
“That opened up all kinds of possibilities for us,” Jakubowski says in “Hispanic Member Growth Not Just for ‘Gateway States’ Anymore,” a white paper from Coopera.
“Over the years, we had noticed less volume in our branches,” says Amy Goratowski, director of organizational development at Prime Financial. “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.”
And with branches in the Milwaukee area, there’s clearly a need. The Hispanic community is a growing segment of Milwaukee—Hispanic numbers have risen nearly 175% from 1990 to 2014.
Because the credit union serves a high percentage (70%) of members who reside in low-income neighborhoods, Prime Financial has experience adapting products, training employees, and making community connections. This has allowed the credit union to 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,” Jakubowski says. “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, Prime Financial emerged ready to recommit to the right people.
“We took a hard look at everything we were doing,” says Jakubowski, who notes the credit union is fully staffed with 55 employees, 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.”
Buy-in from management was a critical first step to developing the credit union’s Hispanic member growth plan. And it didn’t come easily.
After all, the credit union was still recovering, and 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,” Jakubowski says.
The credit union began working with Coopera on a series of surveys to determine the needs of the Hispanic community.
Coopera also spoke with Prime Financial’s staff to uncover sentiments employees may not want to share with the credit union’s leadership. It also included a trip to a local market for lunch where credit union employees were challenged to only speak Spanish.
“It was something of a cultural awakening for us,” Jakubowski says. “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.”
Training bilingual employees to not only speak the right words but also have the cultural awareness to adequately explain financial products was also critically important.
Prime Financial mobilized a team of 13 volunteers in January 2016. That team is now leading the execution of the credit union’s Hispanic growth plan and playing an instrumental role in the development and launch of Prime Financial’s new branch location.
“This team is discovering so many ways for us to be involved in the community,” Jakubowski says. “For example, we learned a Mexican Independence Day festival takes place right by our south branch, so we participated in that for the first time. We didn’t show up with brochures. We showed up to have fun and to get to know the people we want to serve.”
Prime Financial 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 Goratowski, these individuals are highly engaged and passionate about continually improving their skills.
Containing staff excitement about the prospect of gaining new members from the Hispanic community is one of the challenges Jakubowski and Goratowski say.
“We can’t do it all,” Goratowski says. “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.”