When the idea of a Latino-focused credit union in Madison, Wis., fell through in the early 2000s, UW Credit Union committed to meeting the needs of that community.
On Sept. 7, roughly 20 years later, the $5 billion asset credit union held a proclamation ceremony after obtaining Inclusiv’s Juntos Avanzamos designation for its commitment to Hispanic, Latinx, and immigrant communities.
“Being inclusive and accessible takes intentional effort. It takes effort to understand the barriers people face,” UW Credit Union CEO Paul Kundert says. “This is great validation and recognition of the work we’ve been doing. And it’s an opportunity to benchmark what we’re doing and learn about more opportunities moving forward. We see today as the beginning of a new chapter.”
The credit union is flying the Juntos Avanzamos flag alongside the flag for Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. There are 134 credit unions with the Juntos Avanzamos designation, which stands for “together we advance” and recognizes credit unions that provide safe, affordable, relevant services, and help consumers navigate the financial system.
“UW Credit Union joins a growing number of credit unions across the country that are helping make the American dream a reality for all,” says Inclusiv Executive Vice President Pablo DeFilippi, who presented the proclamation and flag alongside Coopera CEO Víctor Corro. “Financial inclusion is not some loose concept. We want what everyone else wants. We’re not taking about charity, we’re talking about doing right by doing well.”
“Improving one’s financial well-being hinges on acceptance and access for all,” adds Consumer Lending Operations Assistant Manager Natalie Ponce, the co-founder of UW Credit Union’s Latinx Employee Resource Group. “There’s never a one-size-fits-all approach to finance. It must be tailored to specific needs of communities. We face unique cultural and language barriers, and that can hinder our financial knowledge, resources, and continued education.”
UW Credit Union has made a concerted effort to ease those barriers since publishing a 2004 whitepaper assessing what it needed to change to accomplish long-term accessibility goals.
Today, all consumer products the credit union offers are available to members with individual taxpayer identification numbers at the same rates, terms, and technical processes as members with Social Security numbers. The institution also has 150 employees certified as proficient in Spanish, with 26 of the 32 UW Credit Union branches employing bilingual frontline staff.
The credit union’s intentional effort shows in the membership data, as about 40% of Latinos in Dane County are UW Credit Union members.
“Financial education is a fundamental pillar for achieving economic stability and prosperity,” Ponce says. “Latinos, on average, face disparities of income and wealth over other ethnic groups. We must recognize these disparities and work together to overcome them. We must create a more equitable future for all. This designation proves we’re meeting members where they are for them to be where they want and where they deserve to be.”