Hispanic Outreach Key to CU’s Membership Growth

Two-thirds of CU’s new member growth comes from the Hispanic community.

May 12, 2014

When Ascentra Credit Union in Bettendorf, Iowa, first attempted to reach out the Hispanic community, it had five branches, two of which were in cities with a Hispanic population growth rate higher than the national average.

With corporate America already acknowledging the importance of tailoring products and services to Hispanic consumers, the $328 million asset credit union decided to follow suit.

Ascenra CU
Ascentra CU's marketing team won six Diamond Awards during the CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council's 2014 annual conference. From left are Alvaro Macias, community development coordinator; Jennifer Naeve, vice president of marketing; and Michelle Goodwin, marketing specialist (Ascentra CU photo).

“Hispanics are a very loyal, extremely young, and fast-growing population shaping the future direction of business and commerce in our country,” says Alvaro Macias, Ascentra’s community development coordinator. “Unfortunately, it’s a population that is largely underserved in the financial services industry. As Ascentra began to realize the influence and impact Hispanics will have in the future, we knew it was not only right to reach out to this underserved segment, it was a good business decision.”

Ascentra took steps to make sure it would be successful in its Hispanic outreach efforts. Management initially asked three bilingual employees for ideas on how to reach this segment of the population.

The credit union purchased some advertising and sponsored some small events that catered to the Hispanic population, but there was no formal Hispanic outreach plan or goal.

That’s where Coopera came in. The company, which facilitates credit union service to Hispanics in partnership with the Iowa Credit Union League, conducted a member analysis of Ascentra’s operational areas to provide guidance for the credit union’s outreach initiatives.

These initiatives included efforts such as product and service development, and the implementation of a marketing campaign. Coopera also trained Ascentra’s staff on the credit union movement’s changing laws and regulations regarding service to Hispanic members.

The credit union then created Macias’ position to make sure it stayed focused on building a solid foundation in the Hispanic community. Ascentra also added more bilingual staff to the credit union and translated a page on its website into Spanish.

Today, 18 of the credit union’s 123 employees are bilingual. And, the Spanish webpage includes the names, pictures, and contact information for all bilingual lending officers and call center representatives within the company.

Ascentra formalized its Hispanic Outreach Program initiative and created two advisory councils, one made up of staff members and another with local community members. The groups provide input and insight into the efforts of both the credit union and its competitors.

“Ascentra’s initial efforts may have started out as more of a business development initiative for the credit union,” says Macias. “But when the member analysis from Coopera showed that 63% of our new member growth in 2011 to 2012 was from the Hispanic segment, it confirmed in some of our minds that targeting this group was a key credit union-wide growth strategy.”

Targeted products and services

Ascentra has tailored several new products and services for this underserved demographic, including money wire services to Mexico, Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) loans, and Quinceañera loans.

The credit union also launched “Préstamos Para Mi” (“Loans for Me”), a suite of small signature loans that is marketed as a way to pay for life events, such as applying for citizenship, traveling to home countries, and making large purchases like furniture or electronics.

From a marketing perspective, the credit union also changed its marketing campaigns to better target potential Hispanic members. “We cut out billboard advertising, as its reach and messaging was too broad,” says Macias. “We didn’t want to convey to prospective members that our membership was exclusive to Hispanics.

“Also,” he continues, “we started listing some of Ascentra’s bilingual loan officers’ names and contact information in our advertisements so new-member prospects could call them directly. Our team started getting calls right away.”

Other marketing efforts included bilingual advertising, collateral, and branch signage. “Our advertising efforts included a mix of local Spanish/English newspapers, a college radio station that has Spanish programing several times a week, and a TV commercial during a Hispanic show on a local TV station,” Macias says. “We also began providing Spanish marketing collateral for Ascentra’s products and services, as well as signage in our branches to announce to visitors that we accept matricula cards as a form of ID to open accounts or obtain loans.”

Community involvement

A big push in Ascentra’s Hispanic Outreach Program was to get more involved in its local communities. According to Macias, the credit union has become involved in the Mexican consulate’s mobile visits—events to help Mexican nationals living here obtain matricula cards and passports.

At these events, Ascentra staff is on hand to talk about attendees’ financial needs, as well as to invite them to stop by the credit union to open accounts, obtain loans, or plan for the future.

Macias said the member response to these efforts has been phenomenal. “Hispanic members love that they can talk with someone in Spanish who understands their needs and can explain how Ascentra can help them. But, it’s definitely about more than language. Our staff goes above and beyond to make each of our members feel welcome and valued.”

Ascentra is a supporter of the Greater Quad Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and was recognized by the Chamber as Corporation of the Year. Macias serves as a board member on the local Chamber and chairs the events and program committee.

As part of his community development coordinator role, Macias also has conducted financial education seminars on budgeting, financial planning, and building credit in both English and Spanish at a local church and at a Casa Quad Cities event.

The results of these efforts are promising. In 2012, for example, Ascentra processed 89 ITIN loan applications, resulting in 59 loans. These were all small loans of less than $2,500 which were generally used for consolidation, credit building, and everyday expenses.

Sixteen of those loan recipients obtained credit cards as well.

As October 2012, Hispanics comprised 7.7% of Ascentra’s membership, Macias reports.

Credit unions that want to attract Hispanic members should perform solid due diligence to understand the culture and this group’s financial needs, Macias advises.

“Embrace what you learn and make any necessary changes to your credit union’s culture to accommodate these members,” he says. “It is so important that you go to them—don’t expect them to come to you. This includes being at events in the Hispanic community, talking with the people there, and being genuine in your efforts to show them that you care.

“Although Hispanic outreach efforts can take a long time to implement and yield measurable results, know it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Macias says. “Over time, the rewards are worth every bit of the effort.”

This case study is an excerpt from Coopera's Iowa Hispanic Opportunity Report commissioned by the Iowa Credit Union League.