CU Sees Rise of Asian Americans

About 95% of Nikkei CU’s members are Japanese-American.

August 10, 2012

“Asian Americans are distinctive as a whole, especially when compared with all U.S. adults, whom they exceed not just in the share with a college degree (49% vs. 28%), but also in median annual household income ($66,000 versus $49,800) and median household wealth ($83,500 vs. $68,529.),” according to Pew’s “The Rise of Asian Americans.”

One credit union that has extensive experience serving this group is $70 million asset Nikkei Credit Union, Gardena, Calif. About 95% of the credit union’s membership is Japanese-American says CEO Erick Orellana, so he and his staff are constantly working to address this group’s unique needs.

New immigrants make up about 30% of Nikkei’s membership.

Serving new Americans involves “a hand-holding process at the beginning,” says Orellana. “A lot of times, these new members have to be acclimated with how the U.S. financial services industry works.”

Largest U.S. Asian groupsThe credit union introduces these new members to basic savings and checking accounts, and then offers loans to help them build credit. But even with basic services, Japanese-Americans are unique.

“Culturally, they have a slightly different behavior toward financial services as it relates to paying down their debt,” says Orellana. Japanese-Americans typically pay back loans much faster than Americans, he says, which is both “a blessing and a curse.”

This practice leads to low delinquency, he explains, but also less interest income. Still, business is good, Orellana says.

He cites several factors that have led to the credit union’s success:

  • Advertising in publications geared toward Japanese-Americans.
  • Having employees on-site who speak Japanese.
  • Offering basic financial education tools.

Serving an ethnic minority requires understanding the group’s culture, Orellana advises. “When you market a product or service, be conscious of those cultural intricacies you might overlook if you’re not part of that culture.”