What Political Parties Can Learn From CUs

CUs have been innovative in attracting and retaining the Hispanic community.

October 31, 2012

The face of the American voter is changing. Indeed, Hispanics/Latinos, Asians and African Americans will soon comprise half of the U.S. population. This shift in demographics will reshape U.S. policies and politics far beyond the 2012 election cycle.

That said, turnout among eligible Hispanic voters for this year’s presidential election is predicted to be the highest yet.

The 2010 U.S. Census [PDF] revealed one in six U.S. residents is Hispanic (among children, it is one in four), and of those, 32.5 million were of voting age. And a new study by the Pew Research Center [PDF] found Hispanic’s political views are more liberal than those of the general U.S. public —30% of Hispanic respondents described their political views as “liberal” or “very liberal,” compared with 21% of the general public.

Hispanic voters are weighed down by the same issues plaguing other U.S. populations: the recovering economy, a weak jobs market, education and healthcare, as well as reducing the federal deficit and the gap between the rich and the poor. The Pew study [PDF] also discovered a majority (51%) still identify themselves by their families’ countries of origin.

Regardless of where they were born, however, many Hispanic respondents agreed the opportunities to get ahead are better in the U.S. than in the country of their ancestors. Similarly, they believe the U.S. is a better place to raise children, meaning Hispanic voters are as invested in the outcome of U.S. politics and policies as are any other voter.

As the youngest and fastest-growing minority demographic in the U.S., with strong ties to heritage and homelands, it’s safe to surmise Hispanics will command a greater share of the voting constituency moving forward.

However, Hispanic voter turnout impacts more than just the outcome of political elections, it also influences U.S. policies. With Hispanic purchasing power projected to reach $1.5 trillion by 2015, U.S. credit unions have come to recognize the enormous revenue and business growth potential of targeting Hispanic consumers.

And it’s not just individual consumers who will have an impact on the election. Hispanic-owned small businesses are growing at over twice the rate of the national average—estimated to be more than 350 billion in revenue annually—and these entrepreneurs need financial support through access to credit or financing options,tax cuts or incentives, and affordable healthcare, to create jobs and expand their business capabilities.

A diverse group

The opportunities for U.S. companies to tap into this huge and growing market is simply too great to ignore. In fact, for many of them this market has gone from being an opportunity to a necessity required to attain mission critical objectives.

However, this valuable and rewarding opportunity is not free of challenges.

The Hispanic community is not a monolithic market—Hispanics are not all Mexican, but rather come from diverse races, nationalities, and ethnicities representing 21 Latin American countries, or 22 when Spain is included. However, most Spaniards do not consider themselves Hispanics as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Hispanics come to this country for economic, political and family reasons, among others, and always with the intention to return home in two or three years, when the reason that brought them to the U.S. is resolved. This scenario creates a situation that slows down assimilation while intensifies acculturation.

Therefore, the person holds on strongly to their own culture while trying to adapt to the American way of life.

Another challenge is that Hispanics are not all foreign-born, or first generation. Many have been here for generations.

In fact, second-generation Hispanics are predicted to outnumber first-generation Hispanics by 2050. This translates into different language preferences and media habits.

Credit unions have recognized the importance of this growing market and many have been very strategic about developing strategies to attract and serve this community.

Since Section 326 of the U.S. Patriot Act was passed, financial institutions have been able to serve foreign nationals by being able to accept non-U.S. government-issued identification from these individuals as part of the financial institution’s Customer Identification Program [PDF] to open accounts.

Being able to use nongovernment forms of identification, such as a non-U.S. passport or a consulate card like the Mexican Matricula Consular, provides foreign nationals access to traditional financial services and thus eases them into the U.S. financial system. This converts many from cash-carrying consumers with limited spending power to customers with the means to access a wide variety of financial resources.

Savvy financial institutions, including many credit unions, court first-generation Hispanics—who have a great influence on their second-generation children—to increase member growth and revenue opportunities. They accept non-U.S. passports, consulate cards, cédulas, and Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers as compliant identification and documentation for foreign nationals to open financial accounts.

In fact, research Coopera has done shows a much higher concentration of financial institutions focused on serving the Hispanic market in recent years. Between 2008 and 2009, we discovered the number of credit unions either executing or planning Hispanic-market programs had more than tripled.

By recognizing the importance of this powerful and influential community, credit unions have been truly innovative, and very successful, with their approach to attracting and retaining the loyalty of Hispanic consumers and businesses.

But catering to the Hispanic population is not only important to the strategic growth of credit unions, it is important to our country as a whole.

With the Hispanic community focused on the impact of the country’s economic condition this political season, U.S. politicians should take note: Come Election Day, the political party that has best expressed genuine concern and interest in these issues will have gained the support, and votes, of the Hispanic population.

Gustavo Grüber is vice president of Coopera.