Not only has the Durham, N.C.-based credit union been recognized as a national CUNA Dora Maxwell Award winner, but at a time when many financial institutions are cutting back or shutting their doors, Latino Community seems to have found its groove.
"It is amazing to see that in spite of an economic downturn, we're growing with an expansion in branches, new services, reaching out to new markets of underserved groups and in our financial literacy program," said LCCU Director of Organizational Development Alejandro Sanchez.
He added that the credit union is particularly proud of its financial education program, which recently resulted in a graduation class of 180 participants from around the state. Sanchez said it is the largest graduating class in the $76 million credit union's 10 years.
"People need to learn the basics about the complex financial system so they can access affordable loans and other financial products they need. Financial education has been a key part of our mission since we opened our doors in 2000," said LCCU CEO Luis Pastor.
He added that the majority of graduates were previously unbanked Latino immigrants learning how to navigate the U.S. financial system. LCCU's financial education program is free and open to the entire community. It includes six workshops that cover basic financial management topics, including managing a checking account, saving, budgeting, credit history, credit cards and purchasing a car and a home. All participants who complete the program receive a certificate of recognition and are invited to a graduation ceremony. The 2009 graduation ceremony, which included entertainment from a group of mariachis and popular local dancing group Takiri, was held at the Durham Armory.
The next series of workshops, which are provided three times a year in every branch location on Mondays, will begin in the first quarter of this year. Plans are underway to add several new sessions, including those on electronic services, investing, insurance, and small business services.
"The program has grown to suit our members' needs. At the beginning it was focused on talking about the basic stuff like opening a checking or savings account, what is interest how to do a budget and then from there we talk about the importance of building a credit history in this country because in Latin American countries, in terms of the financial world, it is usually more of a cash-based economy," said Sanchez. "Our approach is that we are simply here to help our members not use the classes as a marketing push of products and that has made all the difference," he added. "Building trust has been key because we're dealing with different cultures and people's thoughts and experiences from other countries where they don't trust banks."
He said that the purchasing of a car or home workshops have been a big draw and the credit union has had members coming in to ask for advice on offers they've received to help them determine if it is a good deal or not.
"We're teaching them to identify key basics and warning signs so they don't fall into different traps of being robbed or taken advantage of, and we're seeing an impact-members are saving more and taking out loans," said Sanchez.
With an eye on keeping education engaging and entertaining the LCCU is shooting its second DVD film, "Roberto's Dreams," that follows the same storyline of its original cast in its popular debut feature-length film entitled "Angelica's Dream's," which documented an immigrant couple's experience buying a home in the U.S. For the second film, it is 10 years later and Roberto has been laid off and starts a business.
"It is a creative way to entertain while being very educational and it at least puts the seeds of what one should and shouldn't do when starting a small business," said Sanchez. "Our hope is that it can be used along with a guide that walks members through the steps needed to start and grow a small business."
He said being authentic and transparent has helped the credit union grow, and in addition to the two new branches that opened in 2009, a new headquarters in downtown Durham near the Visitor's Bureau is being renovated to better serve members' needs, complete with a large community room that can be used for classes and community events as needed.
"The most important thing is that all this growth helps us better serve our members' needs and giving them more convenient access to our services," said Sanchez. "Now is a really good time credit unions to tell people why they should bank with us and not a bank. So it's great for us to now take advantage of that and move forward with new members and new improved services."