Carlos Calderon views National Hispanic Heritage Month as a time to take pride in his community, but he doesn’t require a designated month to do that.
“At my credit union, every day is Hispanic heritage day,” he says. “We live it.”
Calderon is president/CEO at $300 million asset OAS Federal Credit Union in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1962 to serve employees of the Organization of American States, the credit union today serves 9,000 members representing more than 30 employer groups.
With members in 60 countries, half who live outside the U.S., OAS Federal calls itself a “credit union for the world.” With a mostly minority membership, Calderon makes offering programs for traditionally underserved members a top priority.
Serving Latino members in particular requires understanding their culture, Calderon says.
“Latino members look for a financial institution that draws their loyalty,” he says. “Gain their trust by showing you understand them, and they will stay with you.”
Calderon also takes a broader view when serving the Latino community. He’s a co-founder and director at the National Association of Latino Credit Unions & Professionals (NLCUP).
His desire to serve his community grew in the early 2000s, when he learned that Latino workers were killed for their hard-earned money while walking home from a check-cashing service in South Carolina.
“I was heartbroken,” Calderon says. “It got me thinking how my community didn’t have a safe and affordable means to cash their paychecks. That’s when I knew credit unions could be part of the solution.”
NLCUP helps breach the divide between Latino communities and credit unions at all levels, he says. Its members work to eliminate misconceptions about Latino consumers and to educate credit unions on how best to reach these communities.
NLCUP also educates Latino consumers about the value of credit unions, and develops Latino credit union executives.
The organization also offers roundtable discussions, webinars, and mentoring for young professionals. “We have a program called Cafecito con Cultura, which combines a book club with deep insights into our culture,” he says.
As for how credit unions can serve Latino consumers, Calderon offers practical advice: Hire people who speak Spanish, but make sure they understand Latino culture. Hire a professional to translate forms and other communications.
“The language you use has to be culturally and nationally sensitive for every member,” he says. “We’ve seen some very funny—but also some terrible—translations.”
Calderon encourages aspiring credit union CEOs to focus on reaching younger members.
“The average credit union member is 50 years old,” he says. “In 10 years, they’ll be at a different level in their lives where they focus on saving, not borrowing.”
Calderon believes thinking about sustainable initiatives can help in this regard.
“Younger members will ask, ‘What have you done for the environment, equity, and inclusion?’” he says. “We have to be able to respond.”
Above all, stay open to new opportunities, Calderon says. “I’m attracted to the unusual and unknown. I am a huge fan of going off-path.”