Focus on Members’ Lifestyle Needs, Not Cultural Differences
Bilingual service and collateral can set your CU apart from competitors.
In 2004, Great Basin Federal Credit Union of Reno, Nev., recognized how fast the Hispanic population was growing in Washoe County.
Some quick research revealed that Hispanics are projected to represent more than 30% of the county’s population in the coming decades.
The leadership of Great Basin Federal (16,500 members, $125 million in assets) knew it was the right time to showcase its differences from other financial institutions in the area. Offering better programs and services to meet the financial needs of Hispanic consumers was a prime example.
“Great Basin strives to enrich the lives of its members, regardless of heritage or nationality, through education and financial excellence,” says Elisabeth Hadler, marketing manager. “As a financial cooperative that focuses on service, not profits, we work to build personal relationships with our members to best understand what they need from their financial institution.”
Driven by its people-first philosophy, Great Basin Federal geared its Hispanic outreach efforts on lifestyle needs rather than cultural differences.
The first step was to create the infrastructure to accommodate those efforts.
That included hiring more bilingual staff and giving pay raises to staffers who learned Spanish. At one point, up to 50% of the staff boasted bilingual capabilities. The credit union also partnered with specialists to offer a series of diversity and language training programs for employees’ ongoing education.
Great Basin Federal programmed its phone system to offer its menu and directory assistance in both English and Spanish, and set up a special voicemail inbox for Spanish-speaking members who were invited to leave messages with their specific questions or needs.
It also put processes in place to ensure that Hispanic members who visited any of their branch locations could conduct all meetings and transactions with a Spanish-speaking employee.
“Our membership responded really well to the processes we implemented to bolster our Hispanic outreach efforts,” Hadler says. “Through these steps, we were able to build loyalty with our current membership and gain an awareness and trust with prospective members.”
After getting its house in order, Great Basin Federal turned its attention outward.
To build relationships in the communities it serves, the credit union joined the local Hispanic chamber of commerce and encouraged employees to attend local Hispanic community events.
It also initiated member workshops in Spanish to connect financial literacy with Hispanics’ particular banking needs, as well as to educate members about their home-buying and credit-building programs. These workshops were designed to help members better understand the importance of building credit, how to maintain good credit and how to decipher a credit report, among other credit-related topics.
Great Basin Federal also implemented an indirect lending program for consumers to receive pre-approval and financing options on-site at local car dealerships, eliminating the need to visit a branch.
Directo a Mexico, a wire-service program designed to offer members a more affordable way to send money outside the U.S, has been popular, Hadler notes. Transfer processing fees are waived for core credit union members who transfer money from the credit union to a participating financial institution outside the U.S.
For customers who aren't core members, transfer process fees can be as low as $10, compared to more costly fees of $35 for transferring money to financial institutions that are not part of the Directo a Mexico program.
When the 2008 recession hit, Great Basin Federal struggled to maintain its outreach efforts. “The economic downturn really limited the time and resources we were able to devote to our Hispanic outreach efforts,” Hadler says. “Because of the costs involved, we scaled back on our bilingual marketing materials, and we found it harder to retain bilingual staff. And with changes in compliance, we found it even more challenging to track and measure the success of our programs.”
That said, Hadler noted the cooperative worked hard to keep programs like Directo a Mexico in place. The credit union also has continued its internal processes to offer members in-person and over-the-phone service in both English and Spanish.
Hispanics now account for more than 25% of Great Basin Federal's membership, Hadler says. “We’re proud that even in the face of economic uncertainties, we made the right decision, continuing to offer the financial programs and services the Hispanic market needs most.”