Credit unions might believe they’re doing all they can to target valuable demographic groups, but there’s one market that many are neglecting, said one consulting firm and its credit union clients. Hispanics are a rapidly growing market, according to Des Moines, Iowa-based firm Coopera Consulting. And they are hungry for financial services and carry an abundance of new business opportunities for credit unions.
Mexico-born Miriam De Dios, CEO of Coopera, said that while many credit unions naturally serve Hispanics as a result of their member service area locations, not enough of them implement comprehensive plans to win over the ethnic group. Coopera opened five years ago and has helped approximately 70 credit unions court their Hispanic communities to date.
“In California, for example, credit unions are serving Hispanics by default because Hispanics live there,” De Dios said. “But many credit unions don’t have a strategic growth plan. Credit unions need to grow in terms of members, and Hispanics are an untapped market. They represent a blue ocean of opportunity, and they’re a loyal market to reach out to.”
To demonstrate just how much opportunity lies in the Hispanic market, De Dios noted that it’s the largest, fastest growing and youngest market out there.
Before reaching out to the Hispanic community, credit unions need to understand their financial services needs according to their varying generational characteristics, De Dios said. First generation Hispanics, such as De Dios’ parents, tend to be the most underserved Hispanic generation. They’re typically unbanked and heavily reliant on alternative financial services.
“I remember my Dad would cash his paychecks at a check cashier, then purchase money orders to pay bills,” De Dios said. “The biggest opportunities for credit unions are with that first generation.”
Second generation Hispanics, such as De Dios herself, tend to adopt their parents’ financial behaviors, but are more accustomed to the English language, she said. They want traditional financial products, but they also want those products to be relevant to their culture. And the third and subsequent generations of Hispanics behave similarly to average American consumers, she noted.
So what can credit unions do to attract Hispanics on a generation-by-generation basis? Two perfect offerings for first generation Hispanics are prepaid, reloadable payment cards and money transfer services, since many have the need to transfer funds to family members in Mexico, De Dios said.
“The prepaid card is a good introductory tool,” she said. “They’re only spending what they have, and they don’t always need a credit history to get one. Then they can begin building a relationship with the credit union and eventually be moved onto other products.”
For the younger Hispanic generations, mobile technology services are likely to strike a chord. De Dios said Hispanics surpass all other demographics in terms of mobile technology use, and they’re using multiple channels at once, including text, Web browsers and email.
Prior to reaching out to Hispanics, it’s critical for credit unions to adjust their internal cultures accordingly, De Dios added. Having at least a couple bilingual staff members and ensuring identification and documentation policies accommodate the needs of immigrants are two key areas to focus on.
The $115.4 million, Battle Creek, Mich.-based United Educational Credit Union, which partnered with Coopera in 2009, expanded their identification and proof of income policies to suit Hispanics. They now accept employer letters in lieu of traditional paystubs and alternative forms of identification, said Executive Assistant of Marketing Joan Miller and her bilingual colleague, Elizabeth Tutewiler.
Spreading the word about Hispanic-friendly products and services entails more than just running advertisements in Spanish media, De Dios emphasizes. It requires an immersion into the Hispanic community and grassroots efforts, such as providing basic financial education to first generation Hispanics and assembling an advisory group within the credit union, especially for Hispanic outreach.
Miller said United Educational CU learned that face-to-face interactions and building trust is important to winning over the Hispanic community, as many Hispanics have been taken advantage of by alternative financial services providers.
“We learned that credit unions in Mexico aren’t insured like they are here,” Miller said. “So we educate our Hispanic members to make sure they know we’re insured by the government, and that their money is safe here. Many of them have been victims of predatory lenders, which harmed their credit, and we’re working to help them improve that.”
Among the products United Educational CU developed amidst its Hispanic outreach efforts was the American Dream Loan, a small loan of approximately $1,000 designed to help members establish a credit history.
The credit union has also focused on educating staff members about the Hispanic culture. In one activity, staff members who were not fluent in Spanish were asked to visit a local Mexican store and ask for an item in Spanish.
“We did that in order to help our employees understand that it’s hard to go into a place where you don’t know the language,” Tutewiler said. “It showed them how a Hispanic person might feel coming into one of our branches.”
Miller said since beginning its strategic Hispanic outreach plan, the credit union increased its number of Hispanic members from 274 in January 2010 to 474 in January 2012, representing a growth of 73%. Hispanics currently form 3.9% of the credit union’s total membership.
In the near future, Miller said the credit union would like to see that 3.9% grow to mirror the Hispanic percentage of Battle Creek’s population (approximately 7%). It said that it also hopes to see a loan penetration increase among Hispanic members.
Staff members of the $2 billion, Vacaville, Calif.-based Travis Credit Union, which also began working with Coopera in 2009, learned that adopting the right organizational mentality and adapting to its Hispanic market – not vice versa – were key to reaching Hispanic outreach goals, explained Sherry Cordonnier, director of corporate relations for Travis CU.
Travis CU has focused on grassroots marketing within Vacaville’s Hispanic community, forming focus groups, developing Spanish signage in branches, introducing financial literacy programs in Spanish and conducting seminars for staff members to better acquaint them with the Hispanic culture, Cordonnier said. The credit union also implemented some targeted products, such as a loan designed to fund quinceañeras–traditional, elaborate birthday celebrations held for 15-year-old Hispanic girls.
Since 2010, the credit union has experienced Hispanic membership growth of 10%, and expects to see continued growth of 5% in 2013.
“Our grassroots marketing really helped us to build relationships in the community,” Cordonnier said. “Our objective is to be an authoritative provider of financial services to our entire membership, including Hispanics. We’ve developed products that would benefit them, as well as our bottom line.”
De Dios concluded that it’s important for credit unions to take their Hispanic outreach steps one at a time and focus their efforts on the largely underserved first generation of Hispanics.
“Credit unions can get overwhelmed, but capturing the Hispanic community doesn’t have to be overwhelming,” De Dios said. “They can start small and slowly build their presence."