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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Want your ethnic marketing strategies to succeed? Then make becoming a part of the culture and community the main priority. “You have to culturally be there,” said Credit Union ONE President/CEO Armando Cavazos. “If you think you’re going in with a surface-only marketing blitz, it will take you 10 steps back.” He knows what he’s talking about since his $604 million Ferndale, Michigan-based credit union is now serving the second generation of its loyal Hispanic members. “We didn’t say all of a sudden `oh let’s market to Hispanics,’ what we did over the past 30-35 years is stay in a community when all the other financial institutions left,” said Cavazos. “Our credit union’s purpose is to be there culturally for the communities we serve. So we don’t think of our Southwest branch in the city of Detroit as different, we simply serve those members who live there that happen to be Hispanic.” According to Cavazos, the credit union not only hires from within the community but sponsors and implements fun, educational programs ranging from what it means to get a mortgage to hosting health education seminars. The credit union’s purpose is to participate or organize activities that will have a positive impact on the lives and society in a particular community. “It takes time. We made a commitment to the community, established ourselves with the families there, and the resulting intergenerational relationships came from trust,” said Cavazos. “Trust is not built on that brochure you’ve just translated into another language but being a part of that community.” Taking its tagline “Where You Matter” to heart, CU ONE’s marketing department conducts in depth analyses that check the pulse of branch communities throughout the state and discover what is needed and how to get involved. For its Southwest branch in Detroit, the credit union has not only sponsored scholarships and financial literacy courses in local schools but also free mammograms, prostate cancer awareness seminars, outreach programs and community festivals. The branch also tries to showcase the Mexican heritage in a proud manner. For example, CU ONE staffers recently went into elementary school geography classes to help teach students about some of the Mexican customs, complete with a Mariachi band. “Sometimes the best way to break in is through the children,” said Cavazos. “Many times even with the outreach program we can’t get the parents to come to educational programs, but the children know us from school, they often are the go between in the western culture. So they will share with their mother and say `let’s go learn about cancer’.” Cavazos admits to being mildly amused with everyone “suddenly” realizing the importance of serving the Hispanic market after the Census Bureau reports that Hispanics are now the largest minority group. He also points out that the biggest mistake credit unions can make is lumping groups, for example all Hispanics, together. Latinos may share a common language, but the Bolivian, Puerto Rican, Peruvian, Venezuelan, Mexican, Guatemalan are all culturally different, says Cavazos. Understanding those differences will also help efforts to reach out to those communities. Plugging into the Arabic culture certainly helped Michigan-based Dearborn Village Community Credit Union reach and serve new members. The $10 million credit union hired two interns of Middle Eastern decent from the University of Michigan to develop a plan on how to better serve the growing Arabic community beyond just presenting information in Arabic. “One of the interns was from Pakistan and the other had Lebanese roots, and they had the responsibility of asking questions we thought necessary to have a better understanding of the culture and what products/services were needed or wanted,” said Dearborn Village CCU CEO Terry Denmark. “To gain even more awareness in the Arabic community we specifically went to the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, which is a culture center, to find a board member when we had an opening.” According to Denmark, the interns’ research proved invaluable as the credit union surveyed various community leaders from ACCESS and the American Arabic Chamber of Commerce, to the Islamic Institute. The credit union not only learned what groups to associate with but also established contacts with the many Arabic television, radio and newspaper outlets. But word of mouth and direct mail proved to be the most effective marketing delivery method. “It really helped us to shape our image in the community. We experienced a 22% growth rate which is almost too rapid a growth given today’s low interest market. So we purposefully had to back off a little,” said Denmark. Dearborn Village CU stays active by sponsoring cultural events such as the Arabic International Festival, which the credit union teamed with a local favorite Arabic restaurant to offer members a 15% discount. According to the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth, by the year 2007, the spending power of America’s ethnic minority groups will exceed $2 trillion, outpacing the growth in white consumer spending by more than 80%. “If you haven’t checked the demographics in your area, do it now,” said Texas Credit Union League CEO Dick Ensweiler, “because these statistics should dictate your future strategic direction.” That was also the central message from a colloquium of immigration experts and CU CEOs sponsored by the Filene Research Institute and the Center for CU Research. Migration expert Alejandro Portes, director of the Center for Migration and Development at Princeton University, told the colloquium that second-generation immigrant youth face tremendous challenges in becoming acculturated to American society. He urged participants to understand the immense differences in financial needs and resources among various immigrant groups. “It is not the same to deal with the needs of a Korean community of entrepreneurs as it is to deal with the needs of a community of struggling Haitian workers in Miami,” Portes said. “CUs must segment these groups if they are to serve them effectively.” Portes suggests credit unions use market research tools, including focus groups, to measure the attitudes of specific immigrant populations before implementing programs to serve them. “I know for our credit union based on our research, there are tremendous opportunities to reach not just Hispanics but Koreans, Indians and Pakistanis as well,” said Cavazos. “The same must be true for other credit unions. It is so important to be inclusive, and when you become active partners in your communities the residents know you’re being genuine. I can’t say it enough: culture and community first- anything else is not only a waste of money but also is insulting.” [email protected]

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