Over the past five years in Charlotte, N.C., the Spanish-speaking immigration population exploded! Unfortunately, so did the crimes against this new community. These immigrants, being a largely cash-and-carry society, were being robbed at gunpoint, having their homes broken into, and in some of the most horrific reports, being murdered for cash. In one year alone, robberies against Latinos in Charlotte, N.C. increased by 550%! On reporting these crimes against Latinos the common theme was "The banks will not open accounts for them". A variety of excuses were given by the banks, the most common, "They don't have Social Security numbers, so we can't open accounts." As a credit union, our ears perked up, and we had to ask – "Then, why can't WE serve them?" As we started doing the research into this problem, we were stunned at the facts. There are over 31.7 million Hispanic/Latinos in the U.S.A. Over 12.5% of the U.S. population is Hispanic/Latino and their spending power is estimated to be over $480 billion! And here's the clincher – over 38% do NOT have a financial institution relationship! We saw that credit unions have a tremendous opportunity to do the right thing and serve the under-served. First things first, we had to find out if we could serve a person who does not have a Social Security number. According to the NCUA the answer was (and still is) a resounding yes. If the account is not dividend-earning it isn't reported to the IRS, thereby you do not have to have a Social Security number. Even with the concerns since 9/11 and the upcoming Patriot Act – the fact remains that you can have a non-dividend bearing account as long as you offer it to all members, and not just those in a certain category (i.e. race or SEG group) and as long as the member is made aware that it is not dividend-bearing. Yes, you still have to maintain due diligence, field of membership eligibility, obtaining official Photo Identification and records, but what we found is that flexibility is the key. Broaden your definition of "official identification". We accept passports, Mexican Voter Registration Cards, Visas, even other countries' drivers' licenses. And yes, for these accounts, the same checks and balances apply – you run OFAC records, you verify income, you report CRT transactions – it's business as usual – just with non-dividend bearing accounts! Additionally, NCUA has also stated that your member does not have to be a United States citizen to belong, unless it's in the bylaws of your credit union. Know What You're Doing and What Needs to Be Done! First things first, we needed Cultural Diversity training for our staff. Resentment, concern, and basic misunderstanding about who these "new members" were had to be overcome. We had to recruit bi-lingual employees and convince managers WHY they needed to recruit bi-lingual employees! We also had to find new vendors and certified translators to handle marketing and regulatory copy while learning more about the culture to broaden our awareness. Also important is making sure that all avenues of delivery are Spanish-capable, from our ATM network to our home-banking and welcome letters. Even something as simple as having the hours and days that you operate displayed on the door, side-by-side with the English version, reinforces the fact that you are willing to serve the Latino Community. And with marketing – oh what fun! Meet the Latino Leaders in your community. There are a number of Latino organizations – in this area they include The Latin American Coalition, The Las Americas Business Council (a member of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce), and The Las Americas Women's Business Association. In addition, many organizations (such as the County Department of Social Services, Salvation Army and Goodwill) have departments involved specifically with the Latino community. In getting to know the Latino leaders, you can avoid political pitfalls and have a network of advisors on what's working and what's not. They also are in contact with the very people you are trying to reach and can advise you as to the services you'll want to provide. You will also find that the leaders of this community are appreciative of your credit union's efforts. We receive an incredible amount of referrals from this group for new business all the time! The Latino newspapers, radio and media are especially thrilled to hear of efforts in their community. We sent a local Latino newspaper ONE press release about our commitment to serving the Latino community and I not only received a phone call from the editor the next day, but a personal visit from the reporter and got a two-page story with photos! Within weeks we were invited to participate in a Spanish radio talk show and contacted by several other Spanish-media outlets within the greater Charlotte area. Our relationship with the Latino press is to the point that they regularly call us for quotes concerning our perspective on events in the community. It is quite an achievement for "little" Charlotte Metro Credit Union to be quoted side-by-side with Bank of America, First Union, the mayor of Charlotte, and our Congressional Representatives! Additionally, you have to get the credit union involved with the community and that includes events such as local soccer championships, Latin-American Art Festivals, and Neighborhood Block parties. Between the food, music and dancing that goes on at these well-attended events, I actually have employees volunteering to work weekends now! There are a number of additional challenges, language barriers, cultural differences.all of these can be quite intimidating. But there are resources available. The Texas Credit Union League has an incredible manual available called "Embracing Your Hispanic Market" which covers everything from Regulatory and Operational issues to Marketing. The World Council of Credit unions (www.woccu.org) is a tremendous resource. You will find that many of your vendors already have programs in place to assist you. There is a whole new giant group of members out there, eager and wanting to be served … not by the unfriendly bank…but by a credit union..one that is willing to make the effort and live up to our original philosophy…it's not about money..it's not about profit..it's about people. What are you waiting for?

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