Internal Advocates Boost Hispanic Membership Growth

Remittance program kicks off Hispanic outreach initiative.

June 9, 2014

When Greater Iowa Credit Union in Ames acquired two branch locations with large Hispanic membership populations, the senior leadership team knew the credit union had to step up its efforts to serve this important member segment.

Focused on growing its membership base, the $329 million asset credit union implemented a Hispanic outreach initiative, which started as a marketing-centric approach and grew to include full credit union involvement.

The first step Greater Iowa took was to apply for the Credit Union Remittance Outreach Program grant from World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), Coopera, and the Iowa Credit Union League.

At the time, Greater Iowa did not have a remittance program in place and knew it needed help to implement a successful one if it was to provide an affordable and convenient alternative for Hispanic members sending money to loved ones in Mexico.

“Greater Iowa was one of only three Iowa credit unions accepted into the program that year,” says Michael Adams, the credit union’s vice president of marketing and public relations. “It became the jumping off point for the credit union’s entire Hispanic-focused effort.”

Adams became the point person for Greater Iowa’s external efforts, immersing himself in the initiative and leading the charge for the credit union’s Hispanic marketing, outreach, and community-involvement programs. The company partnered with Coopera to guide them on next steps.

“At Coopera’s recommendation, we refreshed our marketing collateral to be more focused on the Hispanic community’s financial needs, which included, of course, Spanish translation,” Adams explains. “We also developed a portal site that our Spanish-speaking members can use any time to gain immediate access to our bilingual materials.”

The credit union also started advertising on a regional Spanish-language TV channel and two Spanish-language radio stations, and in two Spanish-speaking newspapers. It also created a testimonial TV commercial featuring one of its Hispanic members.”

With Coopera’s guidance, Greater Iowa also gained insight into the cultural and lifestyle nuances of its Hispanic members. This knowledge enabled the credit union to further fine-tune its efforts.

“We found that with the Hispanic community, word-of-mouth referrals can really make or break a credit union’s success in a local market,” Adams says. “To increase opportunities to reach more members in the communities we serve, we began to take a more active approach toward earning positive word of mouth.”

This included participating in Iowa’s annual Latino Heritage Festival; speaking at industry events, such as the 2012 Latino Credit Union Conference in San Diego, Calif.; participating in editorial opportunities with industry media; and starting an annual scholarship program for first- and second-generation Hispanic high school students.

Additionally, the credit union began to host member appreciation events throughout the year. For example, Greater Iowa’s East Des Moines location hosts an annual Fiesta de Navidad event during the Christmas season, and its Denison branch puts on an annual Cinco de Mayo event in May.

“The first year we hosted our Fiesta de Navidad party, we had 300 people show up,” Adams says. “We’ve increased attendee turnout at the event every year since. We like doing these types of events because it gives us the opportunity to show our Hispanic members how much we appreciate their loyalty and trust in us.”

Internally, Greater Iowa started the Employee Implementation Team (EIT) to help the credit union expand the Hispanic initiative from a marketing campaign to a company-wide program.

Adams says the EIT has played an important part in expanding the credit union’s Hispanic outreach efforts. This includes advocating necessary changes to the board, senior management, and key staff.

For example, at the recommendation of the EIT, the credit union’s human resources department became instrumental in growing the credit union’s Hispanic outreach by working with current staff and hiring bilingual employees. Today, 10 of the credit union’s 85 employees are bilingual.”

The EIT also initiated a monthly email communication to all employees, updating them on current issues affecting the Hispanic community, as well as on the credit union’s relevant products, services and programs.

In addition, the team publishes a regular newsletter that provides in-depth details on the “who, what, when, where and why” of the credit union’s efforts. “These communications are so critical in helping us keep the importance of the Hispanic initiative in front of all employees,” says Adams.

Through EIT encouragement, the credit union’s business and product development teams have become more involved with the initiative. According to Adams, each of these teams has recognized that in order to allow Hispanic immigrants to open a checking or savings account, apply for a loan, or take advantage of the credit union’s other financial services, customer identification policies needed to adapt to include the matricula consulate cards.

Going one step further, Greater Iowa also introduced a credit builder loan program for individuals with either a Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. It’s called the Préstamo Camino al Crédito or Path to Credit Loan.

“This was a controversial decision for Greater Iowa,” says Adams. “We knew the program might not be profitable right away because of the high cost of service in delivering these small dollar loans, but we saw great potential for its future revenue opportunities. To implement, we had to get full buy-in and support from our board and executive staff, as well as overcome some regulatory challenges under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). We also had to lobby the program in the communities we serve to convince Hispanics that we wanted to work with them and support their financial needs.”

To further integrate newer Hispanic members into the U.S. financial system, Greater Iowa offers Spanish educational seminars on topics like building a credit history and how to use online banking services.

The credit union recently rolled out Spanish online banking services, which include a mobile app that’s available in Spanish and allows members to view their balances and transfer funds from one account to the other, amongst other services.

“The Hispanic community has been so appreciative of our efforts and personnel,” says Adams. “It’s become symbolic of our company’s approach to the Hispanic initiative.”

The credit union’s efforts have paid off. Hispanic members now account for about 8% of the Greater Iowa’s 29,000 members, “and we continue to see 3% percent quarter-to-quarter growth” in Hispanic membership, Adams says.

To successfully court the Hispanic community, credit unions need both internal and external advocates who understand the credit union’s vision and can move the company’s Hispanic initiatives forward,” Adams says. “These advocates are ideal resources for communicating with stakeholders, developing and nurturing relationships in the local communities, and encouraging employees to follow best practices for successful implementation.”

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