Special Report: Hispanic Outreach

Culture Club: California CU Immerses Staff in Hispanics’ Language, Customs

Identifying with foreign-language speakers' challenges improved outreach efforts.

February 18, 2013
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Eight years ago, the executive team and board of directors at Travis Credit Union recognized that many Hispanics in the northern California communities its 22 branches represent were thirsty for dignified, affordable financial services.

“At the time, we identified an advantage our credit union had over other area financial institutions,” recalls Shérry Cordonnier, director of corporate relations for the Vacaville, Calif.-based credit union. “Whereas other providers were looking to prey on underserved individuals, we truly wanted to partner with them.”

Realizing that nearly 40% of California’s residents identify themselves as Hispanic—a number which is predicted to continue climbing at a rapid rate—Travis President/CEO Patsy Van Ouwerkerk and her team moved quickly to address that need.

“We knew there was only a small window of opportunity to build and capture loyalty with potential Hispanic members,” Cordonnier says. “As such, we implemented several programs to strengthen our efforts to attract and retain Hispanic members.”

Many of these programs continue today, and have helped Travis grow membership 5% annually since 2005. Hispanics now comprise 20% of its overall membership.

Travis began its initial Hispanic outreach by partnering with Filene Research Institute to better understand the size and needs of the local Hispanic market. When its pilot programs proved successful, the credit union decided to take its efforts to the next level—the development of a comprehensive strategic plan that would be sustainable for the long term.

A big element of that plan was partnering with Coopera, which under the direction of late CEO Warren Morrow was an early adopter of programs geared toward Hispanics.

“We had already set our strategic direction when I was introduced to Warren, who was speaking at a conference about how Coopera was helping credit unions with their Hispanic outreach efforts,” Cordonnier says. “Not many financial institutions were doing this type of outreach at that time, so we needed a partner that could help us pioneer new activities and help us be true innovators. After talking more with Coopera, we knew they would be able to help us get to that level.”

To kick off a partnership with Coopera, Van Ouwerkerk invited Morrow to participate in the credit union’s spring planning session in 2009. The firm’s consultants developed strategies to increase Travis' visibility among potential Hispanic members and implemented the Hispanic Opportunity Navigator to gauge how effective it had been in serving the Hispanic community and to identify opportunities to expand its reach.

The credit union also worked hard to bolster its grassroots marketing efforts, Cordonnier says, by:

  • Becoming active in local organizations, such as family resource centers, churches and Project Head Start and Hispanic chambers of commerce;
  • Working with organizations of diversity and their local board of directors;
  • Partnering with community leaders to provide assistance to immigrants;
  • Getting involved with local academic and educational programs that influence the Hispanic demographic;
  • Developing an internal bilingual advisory group;
  • Developing strategic partnerships with organizations to influence the Hispanic demographic; and
  • Developing relationships with local and regional Hispanic media to educate Hispanics about the differences between banks and credit unions.

To further evolve its outreach efforts, Travis initiated two programs to position itself as a trusted financial advisor in the Hispanic market.

The first program, New Era Tanda, made its debut last year. It is designed around Hispanic tandas (also known as cundinas, sans or quinelas), which are informal borrowing/lending circles common to Latin American cultures. The modernized tanda, developed by Travis, aims to bridge a cultural custom with the credit union experience.

Funded by a National Credit Union Foundation grant, Travis is piloting the New Era Tanda program with two groups in Solano and Yolo counties. Each group, composed of six people, helps participants develop a 12-month shared savings goal and takes advantage of the credit union’s unique savings and loan offerings. The program offers monthly meetings with financial literacy courses in Spanish.

After graduating from the program, New Era Tanda participants are eligible for products that meet their credit-building and/or vehicle-purchase goals. If the pilot programs are successful, Cordonnier says Travis will consider making New Era Tanda available in all its branches.

The credit union also launched an immersion program in 2012 aimed at bolstering its employee training efforts. The goal is to illuminate the immigrant experience for Travis employees, making them more sensitive to Hispanic members’ needs and challenges.

Nearly 140 Travis employees took their training from the classroom to the real world. Employees at Mi Pueblo Food Center in Vallejo, Calif., and El Tejaban restaurant in Vacaville were instructed to speak only in Spanish to Travis staff.

“The exercise placed Travis employees in the same situation as our Spanish-only speaking members, demonstrating to them what it might be like for those members when they visit the credit union,” Cordonnier says. “In return, our employees gained a new empathy for many of our Hispanic members and what they experience every day. The training focused on treating these members with respect and dignity, reading body language, and the importance of understanding and communicating the credit union’s products and services in both English and Spanish.”

Cordonnier says the training gave Travis employees a better understanding of the cooperative’s outreach efforts and helped them overcome concerns, fears, and anxiety related to serving members not like themselves. As a result, staff regularly initiates more efforts, such as asking the credit union to provide financial vocabulary lists in Spanish, more training, bilingual staffing, additional marketing and more involvement in Hispanic events.

Also, Cordonnier notes, employees have become more active in local community organizations. For example, Eric Maldonado, Travis' community involvement officer for Contra Costa County, is currently serving a term as president of the Contra Costa County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which has been recognized as California's 2012 Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of the Year.

“By gaining a better understanding of our Hispanic members,” Cordonnier explains, “Travis employees now help our leadership team develop better strategies to increase membership, grow revenue and boost loan volume with this important demographic.”

Another byproduct of the immersion program has been building trust with local Hispanic merchants in the communities Travis serves, opening the door for partnerships in future outreach efforts. The programs have been well-received by businesses, as many have generated new customers and revenue growth opportunities.

In recognition of its outstanding community outreach efforts, the credit union was named the Community Leader of the Year by the Solano County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in October 2012. “This award is usually given to an individual,” Cordonnier says. “It is an honor to be the first business to ever receive it.”

Because of its successful investment in the local Hispanic community, Travis plans to implement more immersion training sessions in the future to ensure all employees have the opportunity to participate. It also hopes to add more bilingual staff and offer more products and services targeted to Hispanic members’ needs.

“As we continue to enhance our Hispanic outreach programs to build awareness for our credit union within the communities we serve, we know that the investment we’re making has not only been good for the strategic growth of the credit union, but has also proved to be important to the overall credit union movement,” Cordonnier says. “We have seen first-hand that our mission of ‘people helping people’ is truly the right approach to take as we work to build trust with, and provide much-needed services to, this growing market.”

This case study is part of the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues’ Applied Research Institute Hispanic Opportunity Report, developed in partnership with Coopera.