DES MOINES, Iowa -- Thanks to the popularity of Mother's Day in Mexico, a $7 million credit union here planned to launch its new remittances product Saturday, May 10.
In Mexico, Mother's Day is always celebrated on May 10, regardless of day of the week, and has traditionally been the busiest day of the year for remittance providers in the U.S.
Deborah Whittie, CEO of $7 million the Village Credit Union, is hoping that tradition will hold true this year and boost the success of her new remittances product, added to the product and service mix in an attempt to lure Des Moines' growing Hispanic market. Village was one of three credit unions chosen by Coopera Consulting, a subsidiary of the Iowa Credit Union League, to pilot WOCCU's Credit Union Remittance Outreach Program. Also selected were the $210 million Greater Iowa Credit Union and the $67 million the Family Credit Union.
The remittance program is designed to assist participating credit unions in developing a successful international remittances program, offering marketing and community outreach advice, the framework for a financial education program, and staff training. WOCCU picked VIGO Remittance Corp., a subsidiary of Western Union, to provided its remittance service. VIGO is the nation's leading remittance provider to Latin America and Caribbean countries. It provides the software and system so the CUs can send remittances, and it also provides pick-up locations, either another CU or a Western Union office
"Any credit union can sign up to offer VIGO, but we wanted to help them do everything they can to be successful," said Miriam De Dios, Coopera's emerging markets director. "A big part of this is financial education, so I asked them to think about what education they are already providing, and if they aren't, any potential partners in the community that can help them develop one."
De Dios said credit unions participating in the program are also required to report metric statistics on a quarterly basis, tracking transaction volume, fee income, profits, and the success of financial education and community outreach efforts.
Whittie said her community chartered credit union rebranded a little more than a year ago, after steadily losing the support of its single sponsor, Blue Cross Blue Shield.
"[The board and I] thought about going to community charter, but at our size, we didn't feel a community charter would save us unless we found a niche market," Whittie said.
As the CEO was mulling her credit union's fate, she attended a conference session on serving the underserved.
"As I listened, I thought to myself, 'you know, I'm right just a few blocks from Latino business corridor, and the Hispanic population is growing tremendously in Des Moines," she said. "So, I thought about it for awhile, talked about it with my board, and after a lot of thought and discussion, we decided this could be our avenue for growth, our niche."
WOCCU created the Remittance Outreach Program to encourage credit unions to provide financial services to immigrants, particularly those from Latin America and the Caribbean. According to the Inter-American Development Bank, $61 billion was sent "home" to Latin America and the Caribbean in 2006. (See related article, page 37.)
"Despite the potential in this market, credit unions have been slow to serve remittance sending populations, prompting WOCCU to develop CUROP," said WOCCU in a statement.
Village has been advertising the Mother's Day remittance event in local media, including Des Moines' Spanish-language radio station, two local Spanish-language newspapers, and by word of mouth via a panel of Hispanic community leaders. The credit union will offer a discount on remittances, as well as food vendors and family portraits.
Whittie said she has no idea how many new members the event will bring, but said she would be pleased with De Dios' estimate of 75 to 100.
Michael Adams, vice president of marketing at $210 million Greater Iowa Credit Union, isn't ushering in his remittance program with a Mother's Day fiesta, but Adams is nonetheless excited about the potential member growth that remittances could provide for two of his branches: one in Des Moines and one in rural Dennison. Dennison, population 7,500, is in western Iowa, home to meat processing plants that have attracted a growing Hispanic population, Adams said.
"Half of our membership is Latino at that branch, and many don't speak English; though, until recently, they all had Social Security numbers and had been in the states for some time," he said.
Greater Iowa has equipped three of its five retail locations with VIGO software, translated materials and trained staff, and has received a trickle of business without any marketing. Adams said he had hoped to get the program up and running full force before Mother's Day, but IT and compliance issues delayed the launch. A major marketing effort should begin soon, he said.