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SAN JOSE, Calif. – The grand opening of Valley Credit Union’s Mi Pueblo branch in East San Jose is the latest move in the credit union’s Vision 2005 plan. That blueprint lays out specific commitments and goals through the middle of the decade. Anthony Jones, VCU president/CEO, explains “part of what we embraced (in Vision 2005) was the diversity of Santa Clara County. We wanted to embrace the multi-lingual, multi-generational population of the county, which has a large Hispanic and Asian influence and a growing number of older individuals who are accumulating wealth.” So the Mi Pueblo branch in East San Jose is staffed entirely by bi-lingual employees to serve the neighborhood’s large Spanish-speaking population. Services include low-cost money transfers to Mexico. “The community has been so positive we’re just overwhelmed. It’s all part of our strategic vision,” Jones says. The Mi Pueblo branch opened 165 accounts in about four weeks and took in some $800,000 in deposits. Loan demand has been so strong the Mi Pueblo office has been farming out loans to other branches. About 30% of TCU’s employees are Hispanic, and about 10% speak Spanish. The 2000 census indicated there are more than 270,000 Hispanics in San Jose, so TCU wants to boost that Spanish-speaking figure to about 20%. In areas with large Asian or other minority population, TCU expects to partner with organizations representing those groups. For example, TCU is discussing with the Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce what form such a partnership might take. “We’re fully aware that Spanish will probably be the only other language where we’re able to have staff on board. For others, we’ll need partners,” Jones says. VCU was founded to serve employees of Pacific Bell and AT&T in Santa Clara County. The need for a comprehensive strategic plan arose in August 1999 when VCU received a community charter covering Santa Clara County. Since then Alameda and Contra Costa Counties have been added. “The board of directors determined that as we went into our strategic planning process we should take a look at what our vision for the future was. So we hired a consultant, Steve Haines from the Center for Strategic Management in San Diego, to help us with that,” Jones explains. “Out of that was born the new vision we have that takes us through 2005. We wanted to be sure our forward planning reflected the new opportunities. We came up with a vision, then worked on the various strategies that would get us there.” One aspect has been to focus in on what VCU calls fully-qualified financial consultants. By financial consultants, VCU means not certified financial planners or brokers, but employees who can advise members on certain basics. The credit union developed a Career Action Program which requires employees to pass at a certain level coursework to become proficient in their particular discipline. A teller might pursue Training X, a loan officer Training Y, and back-office personnel still another track. “If they can’t pass and achieve that level of competence, then we don’t believe they can help us achieve our vision,” Jones says. The biggest challenge so far in pursuing Vision 2005 has been the economy, with the once-hot dot.coms and others in Silicon Valley experiencing major declines. That slump has caused TCU to slow somewhat its current growth. But the plan still has an ambitious target of $470 million in assets and 1.5% return by 2005. When the plan was launched the credit union recorded $191 million assets and .70 return. “So far we’ve been on target,” Jones says, and the slowdown wasn’t enough to stop the opening of the Mi Pueblo branch and remodeling and relocating other branches to create brand identity. Really, Jones says, there have been no other negative changes in the plan. In fact, there have been some positive developments. “We had not fully anticipated the extent to which entry into the Hispanic market would impact the entire organization. You sit down and plan these things, and you talk about the fact it’s going to impact every branch and not just the new branch you’re opening. But you don’t really understand until you’ve done it,” he declares. “From an organizational and cultural standpoint, we have had to look at about everything we do and rework out action plan with regard to the extent to which we’re going to make materials available in Spanish. “We’re finding members are migrating from branch to branch. When they phone the call center, they want to talk to somebody in Spanish. When they use the Web page, they want the Web page available in Spanish. We’ve had to revise our plan with regard to the extent to which we’re going to make materials available in Spanish.” Jones has some advice for other credit unions considering a similar plan. “Bring key stakeholders in before you ever complete anything,” he says. “Before we finalize the top action priorities for the year, we bring in the entire management group, review how we got to that point and get their feedback. “Then once the action plans are created, our senior managers are responsible for leading those action plans. The executive staff works to support them. At the board level, be absolutely certain it’s something you’re committed to doing. We sought the advice of community leaders and they all told us do not go into the marketplace unless you’re committed to being in that marketplace. If you don’t do it right, you will fail.” -

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