INDIANAPOLIS -- If your credit union is trying to provide services to a Mexican immigrant population, and you haven't yet developed a relationship with your local Mexican Consular's office, you've already missed out on an outstanding opportunity.
Four credit union professionals attended the 45th annual conference of El Instituto de los Mexicanos en el Exterior (Institute for Mexicans Living Abroad) in Mexico City May 8-12.
Those attending include: Antonio Cato, branch manager for $345 million Financial Center Federal Credit Union in Indianapolis, Ind.; Maria Martinez, president/CEO of $92 million Border Federal Credit Union in Del Rio, Texas; Luis Caballero, marketing director for $71 million West Texas Credit Union in El Paso, Texas; and Emma Garcia, director of community development for $3 billion Desert Schools Federal Credit Union in Phoenix.
All four were selected to attend by their local Mexican Consular General based on their credit union's programs that serve Mexican immigrants in their communities.
This year's conference, which focused on financial needs, brought together 38 nonprofit U.S. leaders to learn about Mexican governmental programs available to assist both legal and illegal immigrants.
Because banks are for-profit, no bankers were invited to the event, Cato said. In fact, the first question the Institute had for Financial Center during the selection process had to do with its nonprofit status.
Financial Center was chosen thanks to existing programs that serve a surging Mexican immigrant population, Cato said.
"Indianapolis is a growing city, there's a lot of construction and renovation going on, and lots of factory jobs, which has attracted a large Mexican population. While it's not like California or Texas, the Mexican population has grown 300 to 400% in the last five years. Most of the people we serve have only been here 3-5 years, so they're still very new and need financial services," he said.
To serve this new group, Financial Center opened a branch next door to the Mexican Consular office. After gaining the trust of the Consular General and staff, Cato said they now refer clients to the credit union if they need financial services.
"We purposely located the branch next door because many Mexicans see the Consulate's office as a place to get reliable information. We have a lot of people referred over to our branch. Our daily transaction count isn't very high because we're a bit inconvenient and it's hard to find parking, but most people who come to the consulate's office have some sort of financial need," he said.
The purpose of the conference was two-fold, Cato said. One objective was to teach American service providers about programs available through the Mexican government, supported by the U.S. government, which can help both immigrants and service providers. The other objective was to gather leaders together to share ideas and best practices stories.
"Consulate offices are spread out throughout the country, so there's no real fear of competition. Maria and I were able to share information, and it benefits us both because I can't do business in Texas, and she can't do business in Indianapolis," he said.
Both Cato and Martinez praised two programs promoted at the conference: Directo a Mexico, and Mi Casa en Mexico.
Directo a Mexico, launched in 2005, is a joint program operated by the Federal Reserve and Banco de Mexico, the country's central bank. Financial institutions in the U.S. can transfer customer funds to Mexican institutions through the FedACH, the Fed's clearinghouse, bypassing the wire transfer process and saving both time and money.
"We're located right on the border, so our members don't send money home through the credit union very often. They either carry the money across the border, or use Western Union. However, I'd like to encourage them to use the credit union, so I'm planning to implement Directo a Mexico next month," Martinez said.
Mi Casa assists anyone living in the U.S. who would like to purchase a home in Mexico. This not only includes Mexican citizens working in the U.S. to send money home, but also American retirees who
plan to relocate south of the border to stretch retirement savings.
"If you wanted to find a nice beachfront house in Mexico, you can't just mail a check. Through this program, you can get financing through a Mexican real estate company, and the safest way for them to agree to foreign payment is to set up an automatic debit directly from a U.S. account. It's free for the buyer, and they'll even help you find a suitable property," Cato said.
Martinez was particularly interested in a trend of immigrants forming community centers, or "plazas" to provide GED, ESL and financial education to those in need.
Martinez, who is active in several educational programs serving Hispanic immigrants in Del Rio, said she felt the plaza concept would be beneficial to the community, and help the credit union further establish itself as a trusted financial provider.
Martinez also met leaders of an organization that provides financial education for immigrant children, promising them a scholarship award of $200 to $500 upon completing the program. The CEO said the scholarship program, funded by the Mexican government, would be a good activity for the community plaza.
"That is money that is coming from Mexico to the U.S., which is very rare. It's money we can attract and keep in our community," she said.
Martinez, who is active in the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, said she is planning next year's 5th Annual Latino Credit Union Conference, and plans to share some of the information she gathered in Mexico City.