DALLAS (10/14/15)--While credit unions, as part of their mission, are dedicated to reaching out to underserved populations, many credit unions are taking an extra step to ensure Hispanic populations have a safe, trustworthy place to conduct their financial business.
Originally launched in 2005 as an immigration outreach program, the Juntos Avanzamos (“together we advance”) designation is aimed at empowering credit unions to serve Hispanic populations more effectively.
Though the number is decreasing, 17.9% of Hispanic households were unbanked in 2013, according to a national survey from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Language barriers, immigration status and a general distrust of mainstream financial institutions are among the primary reasons.
“Juntos Avanzamos is a way of qualifying credit unions to ensure they are truly Hispanic friendly, and then tells the community the credit union is ready and willing to serve this demographic,” Cornerstone Credit Union League President/CEO Richard Ensweiler told News Now. “Juntos Avanzamos has proven to be an excellent outreach program in Texas and Oklahoma, and is now ready to be expanded elsewhere.”
Credit unions with the Juntos Avanzamos designation fly a flag in front of their branch that serves as a signal that the institution welcomes Hispanic members.
Through a partnership with the Federation of Community Development Credit Unions and Coopera, a Des Moines, Iowa-based consulting firm specializing in Hispanic community growth, the designation is now available nationwide.
“It’s critical that credit unions serve the Hispanic population,” Jon Gorman, senior vice president of communications and outreach at the Cornerstone league, told News Now. “It’s the fastest growing population in the country, and it’s typically underserved for a variety of reasons. But credit unions are perfectly positioned to serve them.”
According to Cornerstone, this includes a welcoming environment that includes:
Vantage West CU of Tucson, Ariz., and MariSol FCU of Phoenix became the first two credit unions outside of Texas and Oklahoma to receive the designation, which was announced at the CUNA Community Credit Union Conference in September. Those two bring the total number of Juntos Avanzamos credit unions to 40.
For One Source FCU of El Paso, Texas, an area with about an 82% Hispanic population, serving that segment of the market is essential. The designation formalized many of its existing policies, including a 95% bilingual staff, a complete Spanish version of its website and relationships with the Mexican Consulate General.
“While it can be a challenge communicating that we’re Hispanic friendly, that’s part of our mission, to build that trust and reach out to consumers,” Bob Peterson, president/CEO of One Source FCU, told News Now.
“We’ve had demand for small business loans,” he said, “and people who are relocating to America due to the violence across the border in Juarez need assistance getting restarted.”
FAA CU of Oklahoma City, Okla., has established a branch in the heart of the city’s Hispanic district, where it offers products and services tailored to the population, and boasts a fully bilingual staff at that branch, as well as a dedicated help line in Spanish.
Alison Wolf, vice president of marketing for FAA CU, told News Now that many Hispanics in the area tend to distrust mainstream financial institutions.
“Many of them have had negative experiences with banks outside of the United States and don¹t trust financial institutions in general,” she said. “It’s a matter of educating them on how credit unions work and working with them to create an understanding of how we can help them with their financial needs.”
While the program has clear benefits for the Hispanic population, Sean Cahill, president/CEO of Southwest 66 CU of Odessa, Texas, told News Now the benefits extend to its entire membership.
“Getting the Juntos Avanzamos designation helped us get our Community Development Financial Institution designation, which in turn has opened up more opportunities for grants and new market tax credits, that sort of thing,” said Cahill, whose credit union serves an area with 60% Hispanic population. “So the designation has not only helped us to better serve the Hispanic population better, it’s bringing in other benefits and opportunities for our entire membership.”
One successful program at Southwest 66 involves a debit card with a picture or logo of the card holder’s school or church on it. Southwest 66 donates a portion of its interchange fees for each transaction to that school or church.
“The Juntos Avanzamos designation gives credit unions another tool in their toolbox that can be used around the country now to help those who need it,” Cahill said. “It’s the perfect name for a credit union initiative. Juntos Avanzamos, or ‘together we advance,’ is just another way to express our philosophy of people helping people."
Applications for the Juntos Avanzamos designation are available on the Cornerstone league’s website.