Maria de Jesus Ortiz Frausto remembers her early credit union visits.
“I used to go with my grandparents to get their checks cashed,” she says. “My grandma didn’t know any English and my grandpa kind of understood but didn’t speak it. I translated when they needed to cash a check.”
She was seven years old.
Today, Frausto—who goes by MDJ—thinks of her grandparents often when she’s out in the community. As business development officer for $1.5 billion asset FirstLight Federal Credit Union in El Paso, Texas, she focuses on community outreach and building relationships.
She’s also dedicated to improving financial literacy in the Latino community. Frausto conducts financial education workshops for everyone from elementary school students to senior citizens. Her passion for financial literacy grew from her experiences with her grandparents, but also from her own, she says. Like many college students, she received credit card offers, opened accounts and used the cards freely. “I thought they were like student loans, and I didn’t have to pay until I was done with school,” she says.
Frausto, who’s a certified financial counselor, says she doesn’t want people to go through what she went through. “It’s never too early or too late to get that financial education,” she says. “Maybe you can get a card at a lower interest rate or get a mortgage loan for the house you really want, not just the one you think you’ll be able to get. I always tell my story because I want people to know I struggled. Whenever I see an opportunity, I will go and do a workshop.”
According to Frausto, finances can be a taboo subject in Latino culture. “Many Latinos are scared to go to a financial institution and talk finances,” she says. “That’s why we have representatives who speak Spanish. That one moment where you say, ‘How can I help you?’ in Spanish makes a huge difference.”
To effectively serve this community, credit unions should remember that, in general, Latino consumers are loyal, Frausto says. “If you help us out, we will stay with you for the long run,” she says. “To gain that loyalty, it’s important to be honest and show us that we can trust you.”
National Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to appreciate Latino culture, Frausto says, noting that it represents her past, present, and future. She’ll celebrate the month by dressing up. “I’m a very colorful person and I feel it shows my personality and my culture,” she says.
As for how FirstLight Federal will mark Hispanic Heritage Month, Frausto says the organization shares videos showcasing Latino employees. She’s particularly proud of her new chief executive officer, Margie Salazar, who is both the first female and first Latino CEO at the credit union. “She started here as a part-time teller and now she’s CEO,” Frausto says. “As a Latina, I see myself in her.”