PORTLAND, Ore. – While the intention behind hiring bilingual tellers to assist Spanish-speaking members is a good one, assisting some Latinos to open accounts and apply for loans may mean gradually building trust. That's part of the marketing campaign the newly-chartered Hacienda Community Credit Union aims to implement to reach out to the nearly 116,000 Hispanic potential member base that spans three counties here. It's been two years in the making and with the credit union scheduled to celebrate its grand opening Oct. 12, Yolanda Karp, Hacienda's president/CEO, said its need is vital to a largely Hispanic community. Hacienda also has the distinction of being the first new state-chartered credit union in Oregon in more than 20 years, according to regulators. "Our mission is to build trust and savings," Karp said. "We discovered that many use check-cashing places and other outlets to wire money that charge a lot more than they should." The credit union will offer personal and auto loans along with basic savings accounts, certificates of deposit and club accounts. Members will also be able to wire funds to family members outside of the United States. The credit union will also have two part-time bilingual tellers to help serve the members. Membership is open to residents of Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties. Hacienda sprang from the Hacienda Community Development Corp. (HCDC), an agency that helps low-income Hispanics find affordable housing. Karp, a former community reinvestment act loan officer, noticed that in trying to get some residents qualified for housing, which requires running a credit report, many did not have any financial accounts or credit history and thus, low credit scores. HCDC approached the Credit Union Association of Oregon (CUAO) for assistance with starting a credit union modeled after the widely-successful Latino Community Credit Union in Durham, N.C., which was recently awarded a U.S. Treasury grant of $1.85 million to open three new branches and provide on-site financial education. HCDC Economic Development Director Alan Hiplito worked extensively with Casey Wheeler, executive vice president of CUAO, to develop a business plan and submit the charter application. Twenty-two credit unions and four banks raised $1 million for non-interest deposits to get Hacienda off the ground, Karp said. The credit union also has enough funding earmarked for operating expenses to last for two years. By the end of 2003, Karp is hoping the credit union will have 1,000 members with the goal to be "financially independent" within five years. "We are extremely proud of the support that other credit unions are providing to Hacienda Community Credit Union," Wheeler said. "They are demonstrating to everyone the people helping people philosophy of credit unions." Providing expertise and support along the way will come by way of Cliff Dias, president of Portland Teachers Credit Union, the largest in the state with 140,000 members and $1.3 billion in assets. The credit union will provide training, back office support through data processing and other services, renovation of the space for the credit union location, and ongoing expertise. "The key point here is filling a need for financial services," said Dias, who will also serve on Hacienda's board of directors. "The Latino community, particularly new Hispanics tend not to trust banks. They pay well above the average for fees and wire services. One of the benefits with the new credit union will be below-market fees." Hacienda's branch is centrally located in a bustling social services center near a number of housing complexes that is home to a large Hispanic population. Still, Karp admits that getting people to open accounts will have to come through an awareness campaign blitz. So far, the credit union has run advertisements in local Hispanic newspapers, radio ads with television spots to come in November. Karp will also target local employers, church groups and health fairs with presentations. One may typically list such states as Florida, California and Texas as home to diverse groups of Hispanic residents. At nearly the northern-most point of the nation, Oregon wouldn't generally be mentioned among that grouping. Yet, Karp said two of the state's largest employers, Danner Boots and Shoes and Epson America as well as a number of nurseries employ many Latinos here. She adds that while there are a number of banks in the area with most hiring bilingual tellers, more outreach may be the answer to wooing the unsure. "A lot of the people we're dealing with had to stop going to school in the second and third grade because they had to go to work," Karp said. "You can't just hand someone an application for a loan and tell them to fill it out. You have to conduct an interview, talk with them, make them feel comfortable, fill out the application for them if they need help." For that reason, the credit union will soon start financial education seminars with the intent of assisting members to build wealth and savings. "The credit union may take off or it may be slow but we're doing everything possible to make everyone aware that we're here for them," Karp said. [email protected]

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