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FARMERS BRANCH, Texas – Exhausting, but highly productive, is how officials from Texas Credit Union League and Caja Popular Mexicana described the first “exchange” program between the two organizations. CPM officials David Torres Ramirez, chief financial officer; Rene Vasquez Perez, IT director, and Ignacio Rico Rey, marketing manager, along with Mario Galarraga, World Council of Credit Union’s project director at the CPM, spent five days here in December gathering information from TCUL, area credit unions and credit union-related organizations to help CPM better serve its members. TCUL received assistance from the CPM in marketing to Hispanics on this side of the border. The visit was a follow-up to a November strategic planning session the organizations held in Leon, Mexico. “It was everything we envisioned, and more,” said Dick Ensweiler, TCUL CEO. “We made a bunch of promises. Now, we have to stay committed and not let it drop. We’re in the process of putting together action plans. I’m sure they were exhausted when it was all over, but they were very upbeat. They told us the meeting exceeded their expectations.” The CPM had previously identified four key areas to research while here: information systems, remittances, investments and marketing. TCUL developed a tight itinerary addressing these issues that included tours of League departments, Southwest Corporate FCU and CUNA Mutual, as well as meetings with the IT departments at American Airlines FCU, Community CU and City CU. “We recognize that in order to compete with banks and to be of value to our members, we must upgrade our system, and meeting with League staff and credit unions who are technologically advanced themselves, has given us great direction,” said Vasquez, CPM IT director. Currently, CPM offers savings and loans, but they hope to add debit cards, credit cards and other services as soon as technology allows. “CPM took an intensive look at data processing,” Ensweiler said. “It helped them understand options and write down what they need to do. It’s a complicated system. Only two-thirds of their branches are connected hard line; others will have to be remote.” John Bock, Community CU, said two things came out of the IT meeting: 1) an understanding of the complexity and the challenges CPM faces in creating a responsive data processing system, and 2) an understanding of the need to invest in someone to conduct the request-for-proposal (RFP) and vendor selection process for CPM. “They had originally planned to write the RFP on their own, but with 320 locations and a hodge-podge of systems, it is a bigger task than they had anticipated,” Bock said. “They’re very interested in shared branching,” he continued. “I think they have the basics of network infrastructure in place, but they need a back-end vendor to provide the engine that will meet their key needs. There are monetary issues. For example, can U.S. vendors provide systems that communicate in pesos instead of dollars and in the Mexican dialects used by the people?” CPM CFO Torres said they are hoping to launch the International Remittance Network (IRnet) wire transfer service between the United States and Mexico in February. CPM saw a live demonstration of an IRnet transfer while here. Currently more than 50 credit unions in Texas offer this service. Galarraga, WOCCU’s project director who is working in Mexico for the next three years to help strengthen CPM and who served as the group’s translator during the visit, said that in addition to Mexican facilities charging exhorbitant wire transfer fees, exchange rates are not always even. Some facilities, he said, require individuals to purchase goods at their store instead of giving them the transfer amount in cash. “People on both sides of the border are being cheated and credit unions are in a position to stop the exploitation of hard working Americans and Mexicans,” Torres said. According to Galarraga, CPM was enthusiastic about the meeting with Southwest Corporate FCU. Southwest Corporate’s Bob Rehm said, “We gave them an idea of who we are and the services we provide. We looked at two things: 1) utilizing the systems Southwest Corporate has to facilitate the remittance program, and 2) investments and asset/liability management issues. The sharing of marketing information netted practical applications for both CPM and TCUL. “We gave them some good ideas, and they told us we are doing some things wrong,” Ensweiler said. As a result, the League will revise its IRnet and shared branching promotional literature, and update its manual “Embracing Your Hispanic Market,” a tool intended to help U.S. credit unions serve Hispanic members. Neighborhood CU’s Mark Arnold participated in the exchange. “We spent a lot of time on marketing plans, and we gave CPM two marketing models to help them understand what makes a good promotion. It’s all about relationship building and cooperation. You won’t see this idea exchange happening in the banking industry.” Galarraga, Torres and Ensweiler took time to promote credit union services on a Dallas Hispanic radio station. In two separate interviews, the trio discussed CPM’s plans for the future. Ensweiler also explained the differences between credit unions and banks and the efforts of the credit union movement to serve the Hispanic community. “The credit union movement in the United States is fortunate in that it has a good image – people trust their credit union here. We need to build that same positive image in Mexico and we feel that we can learn a great deal from the League and Texas credit unions on how to build that trust through the products and service we provide,” Torres said. Roel Ornelas, City CU’s board chairman and a member of the Texas/Mexico Credit Union Relations Committee, made the November trip to Leon. He is pleased with the cross-border spirit of cooperation that is developing. “When they came here, it was our opportunity to share. They were elated to get the information. We kept them busy, but each day they were open and ready to absorb more,” he said. “It’s a great, great thing being able to help people. If [Mexicans in Texas] become members [in Texas credit unions], that’s fine. But if we can help them send remittances [through CPM] someplace closer for their family to receive, then we will have accomplished our objectives,” Ornelas added. -

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