What comes to mind when you see the words “Latino market?”
Typical credit union responses include underbanked, underserved, immigrant, undocumented, disadvantaged, exploited, Spanish-speaking and poor.
It seems as if credit unions desperately need Latinos to be disadvantaged, underserved and so very appreciative of our outreach efforts. It makes us feel good and lets us maintain our illusion that credit unions still exist primarily for people of modest means.
Many credit unions will lose their profitable Latino markets if that kind of misguided thinking persists.One need only attend a credit union conference where Latinos markets are discussed to realize just how little we understand, much less value, this financially powerful market.
An unfortunate example of this was a July 2008 Credit Union Times opinion piece that started out well: “Credit unions have the opportunity to serve the fastest growing minority demographic in the United States–Latinos.” But then, the continuing 800 words in the article warned readers about problems inherent in serving Latinos, including identification and documentation problems for noncitizens, fraudulent tax IDs, concerns about Mexican consular cards and the need for Spanish-language brochures. The writer may have described a rapidly emerging, immigrant market that happens to speak Spanish. But it's not the real Latino market.
The real Latino market controls more than $800 billion of disposable income. They are just like you and me. They are U.S. citizens, born here, just as were most of their parents and grandparents, whose families have lived in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California for generations before my own ancestors came from Ireland and Lithuania. Their preferred and frequently only language is English. These truths are never addressed in our literature or at our conferences.
The root of the problem is that the leadership of credit unions can't seem to grasp the difference between assimilation and acculturation.
Assimilation means abandoning one culture in order to fully adopt a new one. That’s the American Way, right? The message to immigrants remains, you people need to hurry up and start acting and speaking like us Anglos.
However, numerous business and academic studies clearly show that Latinos in the U.S., especially in Texas and the Southwest, do not assimilate. Most Latinos acculturate.
Acculturation means respecting and retaining one deep cultural heritage and combining it with another deep culture, enhancing and enriching both in the process. It does not reject or extinguish either culture; it mixes, blends and celebrates both.
Latinos in the Southwest represent five centuries of reciprocal acculturation of Mesoamerican and European-Iberian peoples. This phenomenon is again underway as Mexican-American culture expands across our country. Both Mexican-American and European-American Anglo cultures are rapidly acculturating. The credit union movement seems to not only reject the positive realities of acculturation, we seem to almost fear them. We keep sending an awful message to the profitable, acculturated Latino market that credit unions are concerned only about an underserved underclass. It’s almost as if we think that Latinos are somehow Anglos-in-waiting.
At TDECU we segment members into all kinds of target markets: young, old, married, women, men, hunters, boaters, vacationers, homeowners, retirees and more. We research who they are and what emotionally appeals to them. Only then can we effectively construct our marketing messages and images.
Our approach to the real Latino market is no different. For TDECU, Latinos are a profitable market segment, not a disadvantaged, marginalized underclass that needs another paternalistic outreach program. The real Latino market is well-banked and financially savvy.
Latinos are entrepreneurial, hard-working, morally and fiscally conservative (but frequently socially liberal), family oriented, fiercely patriotic, financially aspirational, religious and devoted to extended families where matriarchal influence is very powerful. The real Latino market has good jobs or owns businesses. Demographically, Latino families are younger and larger than other segments. At TDECU, we use that knowledge to develop and deliver successful marketing messages and images to Latinos. In English.
Unfortunately, the credit union movement seems determined to keep telling Latinos that they are underbanked, underserved, disadvantaged, Spanish-speaking, Mexican immigrants with citizenship and documentation problems.
I describe the credit union movement’s perception of Latinos by relating a true story about a Latino friend who is a cardiothoracic surgeon in San Antonio. Vic and his kids were working in the front yard of their incredibly impressive home one Saturday morning when a very sweet, Anglo woman pulled up to the curb, rolled down the window of her Lexus and asked him. “How much do y’all charge for yard work?”
Edward C. Speed is president/CEO at Texas Dow Employees Credit Union in Lake Jackson, Texas.