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<p>EL PASO, Texas – Harriet May doesn’t consider herself a leader or a role model, in fact the president/CEO of Government Employees CU of El Paso admits she’s a bit embarrassed by all the awards and recognition she’s received for her credit union and community involvement. “I’m embarrassed to tears because I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve it,” May confesses. “I don’t know if my staff is responsible and keeps putting my name in the pot. My family always gets angry with me because I don’t tell them right away. In my mind, I’m just doing what I enjoy doing.” May says she simply lives an attitude toward life that she learned at an early age: “nothing is beyond possibility if a person puts their mind to doing something and tells themselves `I can do that’.” May began her career with GECU in 1974 as a teller, having previously worked at a local bank for seven years. She credits what she learned about credit unions and community involvement to her predecessor, former GECU president R.C. Morgan – “he lived and breathed credit unions,” says May. “He was a wonderful teacher,” the native El Pasoan says (she was born and raised in the city’s Lower Valley and still makes El Paso her home.) When May became president in 1996, GECU had about $500 million in assets and 160,000 members. At the time, GECU had an occupational charter and served federal civil service employees and their families. May estimated El Paso’s Mexican population then was about 65% of the total population. In 1997, GECU converted to a community-based charter. As a state charter, GECU is allowed to maintain its previous occupational bases plus those people who live or work in El Paso counties who are not eligible to join other occupation-based CUs. Six years later, GECU has $750 million in assets and 215,000 members. It is the eighth largest credit union in Texas, based on assets, and the 20th largest in the U.S., based on membership. May said about 2,000 new members a month join the credit union. El Paso’s population of about 700,000 people is still predominantly Mexican. GECU has about 30% of the city’s population in its membership. May said in some areas, Mexicans make up 98% of the population. While the city is experiencing an all-time low unemployment rate of 8.4% – it’s typically had double digit unemployment – most of the city’s Mexican population are employed at “maquitadora”, the Spanish word used to describe businesses which have assembly plants in Mexico and warehouses in the U.S. May said these types of businesses replaced the blue jean and boot factories that used to operate in El Paso. There are also a lot of call centers for major U.S. companies located in the city “because of the availability of cheap labor,” says May. “We have a philosophy we stress at GECU to value every member regardless of their income level. A member’s income level and credit score are not necessarily the same thing or tied together. A high income level doesn’t necessarily mean a high credit score, a low income level doesn’t always mean a member will have a low credit score,” says May. GECU has been involved with mortgage lending for about 40 years and has about $92 million in first mortgages in its loan portfolio. It also offers home equity loans, credit and debit cards. “Many times we’ll approve a $200 or a $600 loan that we lose money on because that’s what a member needs,” she says. “When I look at what people in Mexico have to go through for their financial needs it makes me angry,” says May. “The banking industry in Mexico is geared toward the wealthy. Most of the people in Mexico are not familiar with credit unions.” That’s one of the reasons May has been so involved with finding ways to reach out and provide financial services to Mexicans living in the U.S. and across the border. Among her many projects, May chairs the Texas Credit Union League’s Texas/Mexico Relations Committee, and she had the “privilege” and opportunity to meet with then Presidente-Elect Vicente Fox to discuss efforts to reduce the cost to Mexicans immigrants living in the U.S. to send money home to relatives. Last December, GECU launched its IRNet service. “It’s a significant savings to these families when they can send $300 home and only have to pay $10, instead of $35 or $40 through another wire service,” says May. May advises credit unions that want to reach out and serve Mexican immigrants to hire bilingual staff and learn the culture of Mexico. “Credit unions that want to reach out and serve Mexicans living in the U.S. have to treat them with the same pride they would want for themselves. You have to value the individual,” she stresses. -</p> <p>[email protected]</p>

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