Special Report: America's CU Conference

Want to Attract Hispanic Members? Build a Community Presence

Latino forum offers advice on serving the nation’s fastest-growing population.

June 20, 2011

Many credit unions are considering Hispanic outreach as part of their membership growth strategies, but several barriers have kept them from engaging fully with programs that are effective, attendees learned during the Latino Membership Growth Forum, a pre-conference workshop held Sunday at the America’s Credit Union Conference (ACUC) & Expo.

The ACUC, presented by CUNA, runs through Wednesday in San Antonio.

The event’s emcee, Coopera Consulting CEO Warren Morrow, noted that “at the end of the day, it all comes down to someone feeling like they were treated with dignity. You are here. You want to serve these members better. The Hispanic market is the nation’s largest, fastest-growing, youngest and most underserved population.”

“Credit unions have a bigger potential membership population in the Hispanic market, but they weren’t really sure what to do,” says Dick Ensweiler, Texas Credit Union League (TCUL) president/CEO. He outlined the history of the league’s Juntos Avanzamos (“Together We Advance”) program for credit unions designated as meeting the needs of Hispanic members.

In Texas, which has a large Hispanic population, 29.4% of credit unions surveyed by the league have no plans for serving the Hispanic market, notes Linda Manon-Webb, TCUL’s vice president of public relations. She noted three roadblocks:

  1. The perception that it’s too expensive to reach or service the Hispanic market or that the return on investment would be low;
  2. The perception that it’s too expensive to educate the market about the credit union and its benefits; and;
  3. Credit unions don’t understand the market well enough.

Manon-Webb says the credit union system needs to provide more tools so credit unions are more confident about their ability to serve the Hispanic market, noting the Juntos Avanzamos program in Texas and Coopera Consulting’s Hispanic Opportunity Navigator.

Jill Tomalin, CUNA’s senior vice president of association services, told the group, “CUNA has learned it is really good at curriculum development, outreach, communications to credit unions, and advocacy, but there were gaps that its partnership with Coopera has filled. Now we can leverage each other’s strengths. Hispanic membership growth has such opportunity for credit unions.”

A panel of credit unions that serve Hispanics outlined their programs and offered advice on strategies and challenges: Gary Williams, CEO of Unity One CU, Fort Worth, Texas; Arna Reynolds, president/CEO, Amarillo (Texas) Community CU; and Eve Hernandez, senior vice president of marketing and business development for River City FCU, San Antonio.

Williams noted that when his credit union considered expanding from a predominantly Anglo-focused credit union to an area where 85% of residents are Latino, “there was nothing to guide us so we were literally starting from scratch.”

Understand the market. Unity One CU spent two years in market research and sought advice from another credit union already serving the market.

The panel’s advice:

  • Educate your staff, especially if it is primarily Anglo.
  • Build a presence in the community
  • Hire bilingual staff.
  • Create a Hispanic advisory board.
  • Have a physical location in the Hispanic community. “If you don’t have a physical presence, you won’t succeed. We bought a Burger King and consulted with an architect to bring details of the Hispanic culture for the feel of home.”
  • Build trust by becoming heavily involved in community activities.

Williams also addressed difficulties including:

  • Breaking Hispanics’ “chain of dependence” on nontraditional services;
  • Serving members who have difficulty qualifying for loans;
  • Addressing compliance issues related to matricula consular cards and fake IDs; and
  • Weathering today’s current debate on immigration.

Reynolds noted that 40% of Amarillo Community’s board is second-generation Hispanic. She suggested hiring and recruiting staff from the Hispanic population and using their knowledge of that culture.

The credit union became a Juntos Avanzamos credit union in 2000 and the Hispanic market is just starting to be more aware of it. She advises making a big deal of your service to the Hispanic market. “We raised the flag but did not capitalize on it.”

Eve Hernandez discussed what it is like being one of the underserved, noting her personal experience of not being able to get accounts even though she worked for the city. “I tried to open bank accounts but was treated like scum.”

She noted the Hispanic community is hugely diverse, and that CUNA’s Environmental Scan has lots of information about Hispanics and their marketing potential. Her credit union offers a number of programs that can benefit this market, including financial literacy, special savings and loan programs, and tax refund assistance.

Morrow concluded the event by debunking common myths and urging credit unions to make their efforts more culturally relevant.