Last month, the U.S. Senate introduced an immigration reform bill that proposed a complete overhaul to the country’s immigration system. Although a vote is likely several months away, credit union leaders would do well to begin paying attention now as passage of immigration reform will undoubtedly impact them.
If instituted, the proposed path to citizenship included in the bill will bring about an increased need for assistance to an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country today. With identification and documentation barriers removed, these aspiring U.S. citizens will begin the search for trusted providers of everything from English as a second language courses to home sales.
Credit unions that have been serving immigrants well and building trust in the communities they serve, will have a definite leg up when these new business opportunities come to fruition. That said, it’s not too late to begin following in these progressive credit unions’ footsteps. And for some credit unions, particularly those in gateway states, it’s not only a good idea. It’s critical for leadership to begin formulating an outreach strategy today – one that will put them in touch with these potential new members now.
Of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country today, many are Hispanic. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, nearly 60% are of Mexican origin, making outreach to this particular group very important for credit unions bracing for the impact of immigration reform. Beyond its sheer size, the Hispanic market’s youth has made service to this group a sound investment for credit unions looking to grow while lowering the average age of membership.
But credit unions are not the only organizations to take note of the Hispanic market opportunity. Thanks in part to the market’s disproportionate number of underserved consumers, competitors from all corners of the financial services industry have targeted Hispanics with renewed vigor in recent years. These include money service businesses such as check cashers, money transfer providers and money order issuers. Small-dollar loan providers, rent-to-own shops and high-interest auto financing providers are also finding a customer goldmine within local Hispanic communities.
Much of this is due to the Hispanic culture’s reliance on advice from friends and family. When one organization serves a Hispanic customer well, chances are that business will grow quickly from referrals. As well, entirely new providers have come on the scene, making competition for the critical Hispanic market even tougher.
While tax providers offering refund anticipation loans are nothing new, they are now offering loans in the form of prepaid cards, giving underserved Hispanic consumers access to the safety and convenience of plastic. The popularity of prepaid cards with underserved consumers has sparked tremendous growth in the prepaid sector with Walmart leading the pack and Hispanic focused companies like Telemundo and Univision also getting in on the game.
Because 91% of those identified as underbanked have mobile phones and 57% have smartphones, mobile services for this group are also springing up rapidly. One example is m-Via’s Boom service, a P2P mobile payments service targeted to the underbanked.
Fortunately, credit unions have several innate qualities that help them compete against long-time and new-comer financial services providers. The ability to offer the same products and services at a lower price is only the beginning. The most important competitive advantage, particularly in the context of retailers offering financial services, is that credit unions can promise a complete financial relationship. This does more than cash a check; it helps a formerly underserved consumer build credit, meet financial goals and ultimately achieve dreams that may have seemed out of reach.
The introduction of immigration reform bills by our legislators shines a bright light on what some credit unions have already learned: investing in service to the critical Hispanic market is vital to future growth.
Now is the time to make the investment in service to immigrants. Where you start depends, of course, on the special opportunities unique to the immigrants in your local communities. By performing a comprehensive market analysis, credit unions can better define their target market, understand the competitive factors that will shape their own strategies and begin to see how service to immigrant populations can align with their overall growth strategies.
Miriam De Dios is CEO of Coopera.
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