WALLINGFORD, Conn. – New London County in eastern Connecticut is no longer the predominantly white, English-speaking population it was in the late 1930s when Charter Oak FCU was chartered as Electric Boat Community FCU. In just over the past 10 years, the Hispanic population of the county has grown by an estimated 57%, and now Charter Oak FCU is including financial service and loan information on its Web site in Spanish as one way to reach out to the more ethnically diverse community. Two years ago, the $405.8 million COFCU – the fourth largest credit union in the state – made a strategic business decision to better communicate with the predominantly Spanish-speaking underserved community it serves. The credit union's community charter includes New London County and the towns of Putnam, Killingly, and Brooklyn. That decision, explained the credit union's Executive Vice President Rick Stout, resulted in Charter Oak running Spanish-language ads about the credit union's services, especially its home mortgages, in a local daily bilingual publication. Charter Oak has also since run Spanish ads on local cable stations, and many of its employees are bilingual and are able when necessary to conduct entire transactions in Spanish. "When a member speaks with someone from the credit union who speaks their language, there's a sense of trust, a gap is crossed," said Stout. In mid-June, Charter Oak intensified its effort to serve the Spanish-speaking community by including financial services information including the CU's mortgage products in Spanish on its Web site, www.charteroak.org. In addition to the product information, the Web site also includes information in Spanish on Charter Oak's history, rates, and branch and ATM locations. Stout said in the first month of having the information in Spanish, the credit union's Web site was viewed over 37,000 times for an average of more than 18 minutes each. Charter Oak's Spanish-language Web site was created by SmartSource Solutions, the technology subsidiary of Constitution Corporate Credit Union. SmartSource also designed the credit union's English-language Web site. Stout said developing the Spanish-language Web site proved to be more difficult than the credit union first thought it would be. "Sometimes you think you have a great ad or idea in English, but it turns out not to be so great in Spanish," he said. "Certain words in English don't translate smoothly in to Spanish, so you wind up having to rethink the ad." It's an effort, he said, that some financials don't want to make. "Even though you may know you have a significant market that's growing and is economically powerful, some financials don't want to go through the expense or take the time to reach them," he explained. But it's a lost opportunity, he added. -


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