Forging strong partnerships has helped the $98 million asset Latino Community Credit Union grow faster than it could have on its own, says Erika Bell, vice president of strategy and services for the Durham, N.C. institution, which won the Credit Union National Association’s (CUNA) 2010 Community Credit Union of the Year Award for credit unions under $250 million in assets.
At $1.8 billion asset HarborOne Credit Union, Brockton, Mass.—top winner in the category of credit unions with more than $250 million in assets—credit union officers serve on the boards of every major organization in the community, says Leo MacNeil, senior vice president, community relations. This gives HarborOne a sound understanding of both the business and social needs of the marketplace.
In a Credit Union Magazine interview, Bell and MacNeil reflect on their community roles.
CU Mag: What are the keys to your growth and success?
Bell: Latino Community was created as an innovative grassroots response to a wave of violence against the community, based on the perception that Latinos carry cash. The credit union has been created by and for the community it serves (low-income Latino and other immigrant communities in North Carolina).
All staff are fully bilingual and bicultural. The majority are immigrants themselves, so they’re able to relate to members.
Partnerships with State Employees’ Credit Union, Self-Help Credit Union, El Centro Hispano, andthe North Carolina Minority Support Center have helped us grow and expand much more quickly than we would have been able to on our own.
MacNeil: HarborOne has a visionary board of directors and an enthusiastic staff led by a dedicated management team. We recognize that creating advocates among our members is the best form of marketing success. Having a good understanding of our community and believing we have a role to fill have provided us with an opportunity to do well by doing good.
Our staff carry out our mission every day. As a result, their knowledge and understanding of our goals and objectives and the actions that we’re taking are critical.
CU Mag: What have been your challenges in serving members and businesses?
MacNeil: We face competition from large national and regional banks as well as small local community financial institutions. The challenges we continue to face typically deal with convenience of both ATM networks and branch locations.
While we have 15 branches today, the requirements of serving the needs of one customer segment looking for branch locations, while at the same time dealing with the other electronic channels, continue to add an expense burden to the organization. Managing this transition from a generational standpoint is one we continue to deal with.
We’ve been in the commercial lending business for only 2½ years, but we’re now the No. 2 Small Business Administration (SBA) lender in the state (and the No. 1 credit union SBA lender in the state). The challenge we face is creating awareness that we’re in the commercial lending business and we’re in it for the long haul.
Bell: The majority of our members have never had a relationship with a financial institution. So staff must earn the community’s trust and educate members about the importance of integrating into the mainstream U.S. financial system.
We invest in a comprehensive financial education program to help move people along the financial competency continuum—from using basic transaction accounts to establishing and using credit, and finally to building wealth for themselves and their families. While education is a significant investment for the credit union, it yields positive results for our members, the credit union, and the entire community.