Embrace ‘cultural norms’ to attract a diverse membership

Comprehensive data can help credit unions move the needle on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

July 10, 2020

Reaching and serving a diverse membership requires cultural competency both inside the organization and within the community, according to panelists who took part in a recent CUNA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) eSchool webinar.

“There is no road map,” says Samira Salem, CUNA’s senior policy analyst. “It’s a process of continuous improvement through education, learning, and correcting course, and then continuing to move forward.”

She says most of the current DEI data collected on credit unions tends to describe diversity with information such as race, ethnicity, gender, and income levels rather than equity and inclusion.

With more comprehensive DEI data from credit unions, CUNA researchers can help “move the needle” within the movement, she says.

“Our research tries to answer two questions: how diverse are credit unions and who are credit unions serving?” Salem says.

Data indicates many credit unions have achieved a high level of gender diversity. More than half (52%) of credit union CEOs are women compared to 5% at banks, according to CUNA research. But most female credit union CEOs work at small institutions, Salem notes.

“While we do have some reasons to celebrate, some challenges remain for women to break the glass ceiling when it comes to CEO leadership at credit unions,” she says.

She also says credit unions can do a better job of advancing racial and ethnic diversity among their boards and senior leadership teams.

‘There is no road map. It’s a process of continuous improvement through education, learning, and correcting course, and then continuing to move forward.’
Samira Salem

A matter of relevancy

Victor Corro, CEO of Coopera Consulting, says leadership representation is a “matter of credit union relevancy.”

As of 2019, 64 million Hispanics represented 19.5% of the U.S. population, and it’s the nation’s second-fastest growing ethnic group, Corro says. The U.S. will reach a minority majority in 2050, where the nonwhite population exceeds 50%. It’s currently 40%.

But that diversity is not reflected in credit union leadership and board representation, where just a fraction of Hispanics serve, Corro says.

Coopera advises credit unions to focus on four areas to accommodate Hispanic consumers:

  • Personnel. Take an inventory of staff skills and understand the nuances of the local Hispanic market.
  • Products. Adapt products to specific member needs and communicate to Hispanic members across all channels.
  • Processes. Welcome new communities to mainstream financial products.
  • Promotional marketing. This is the “promise you give to the Hispanic community,” Corro says.

“It’s an exercise in making your credit union relevant, making your credit union grow, and making your credit union inclusive,” he says. “It’s not enough to have new faces coming in the door; you want them to feel welcome.”

When staff and leadership reflect the credit union’s target audience, they’re better able to understand members’ needs, concerns, and relationship with money, says Kevin Martin, senior vice president of organizational performance/strategic planning at $16 billion asset SchoolsFirst Credit Union, Santa Ana, Calif.

“When you reflect your target audience, you are able to understand and relate to them, which allows you to create products and services that are relevant and needed ,” he says.

Martin says credit unions need to be “culturally competent” when engaging diverse consumers.  “Genuinely understanding the culture can not be faked and sustained over time,” he said.