Iowa, says Michael Adams, suffers unfairly from what he calls the “state fair” stereotype.
“That’s the perception that we’re all white, we all grow corn, and we all go to the state fair,” says Adams, vice president of marketing and public relations for Greater Iowa Credit Union in Ames.
But Iowa ranks fourth in the nation in Hispanic population growth, according to the Federal Reserve. That’s partly why Greater Iowa expanded its footprint from a university credit union to a community-based institution that embraces the Hispanic community, Adams told the 7th Latino Credit Union Conference in San Diego.
The journey has had its bumps along the way, but the credit union has made great strides in serving a community that, at some branches, accounts for up to 40% of members.
The effort began in earnest when Greater Iowa received a grant from the World Council of Credit Unions to fund a remittance program. “When we did that, we were off to the races,” Adams says.
He outlines the steps Greater Iowa took to approach the Hispanic community:
Partnered with Coopera, which has a strategic alliance with CUNA. Coopera provided translation services, cultural awareness training, financial education material, and other services. “They told us, ‘This is what you need to do,’” Adams says.
Established a customer identification program. The credit union accepts international documentation as a basis for membership and Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN) for loans, and other accounts.
The credit union also offers stated-income loans to help members build credit. The first loan is for $1,000 and must be repaid in seven months. The second loan is $1,500, with a 13-month term. After members successfully repay these loans, they’re eligible for all credit union services.
“It took about two years to get the board to sign off on that, but it has worked out well,” says Adams, citing a 1.5% delinquency rate on these loans.
Took a multipronged approach to marketing, including print and television advertising, festival sponsorships, community outreach, and three scholarships named after Coopera founder Warren Morrow, who passed away this year.
Hired bilingual and bicultural staff;
Formed an employee implementation team to launch, monitor, and promote the initiative and to gain staff buy-in; and
Offered a Spanish-language personal finance website for Hispanic members called El Poder es Tuyo, which translates to “the power is yours” in English.
One of the biggest challenges Adams faced was internal politics. Not everyone on the management team and board agreed with these changes.
But that has changed over time—in large part due to the effort’s success: While the credit union’s overall membership growth was 2.2% in 2011, growth in Latino membership was 12.7%.
While Greater Iowa might not be the Ferrari of Hispanic outreach, Adams says “we’re in a sturdy car with tank full of gas.”
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