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DALLAS -On September 30, 2002, U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin and Assistant Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development Adolfo Franco announced a $500,000 initiative that would lower the cost of remittances being sent from the United States to Mexico and ensure more individuals on both sides of the border have access to affordable financial services through not-for-profit credit unions. One year later to the date, officials gathered at City Credit Union here to celebrate the successful implementation of this project. Caja Popular Mexicana, Mexico’s largest credit union, is now capable of receiving remittances from over 3,000 International Remittance Network (IRnet) locations in the United States. City Credit Union’s seven branches will serve as remittance outlets for its Mexican members and other Mexicans living or working in Dallas. “The credit union wants to help the Hispanic community in Dallas move funds back to family members in Mexico, as well as provide a safe place for their earnings,” said President Mike Kelley. With 30,000 members, City Credit Union serves individuals who live or work in Dallas or Ellis Counties, many of whom are Hispanic. Over the last several years, the credit union has reached out to immigrants by accepting the matricula consular ID card, opening offices in lower-income communities and providing culturally appropriate service to new immigrants. “We are trying to help in our small way. Not all credit unions have embraced the remittance service or the matricula. Some are confusing our responsibility as financial service providers with the responsibility of the INS. We are helping people of meager means who are shoved out of other places. That’s where our niche is,” said Mike Kelley. Most of the event’s announcements were made in Spanish and were directed to viewers of a local Spanish television network covering the event. Roel Ornelas, City Credit Union chairman of the board, expressed the credit union’s desire to assist the “unbanked” in the community. “We want to reach all the Hispanics in Dallas to tell them to take advantage of this new remittance service. You now have many more points of service in Mexico, where banks don’t have branches.where banks don’t want to have branches. If you send money to your family in the morning, they can have it the same day, and with 6,000 total points of service, a distribution location may be only 15 minutes from your family’s home,” Ornelas said. “We want to foster the idea of Mexicans coming into our credit union,” he continued. “As members here, you own the financial institution. You don’t have to become a member of the credit union to send remittances, but we encourage you to join, because it’s a safe place to cash a check. And it’s a safe place to keep your money instead of carrying it around in your pocket. Alfredo Saldana, City of Dallas Deputy Chief of Police, echoed Ornelas’ comments. “Carrying large amounts of cash sets you up to be a victim of robbery. Take advantage of these programs,” he said. Saldana and City Credit Union have partnered in the past to establish a “Safe Banking in the Community” program. Dr. Juan Hernandez, who assisted Mexican President Vicente Fox in pursuing affordable remittance services, attended the event. “I am proud to promote this service to our new American pioneers,” said Hernandez. “Please compare a bank with the credit union, and then come here. If you want to send a remittance up to $1,000, it will only cost a flat fee of $10. The credit union will guarantee the exchange rate, and the recipient can receive the funds in dollars or pesos.” Remittance services are hopefully just the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship between credit unions in Texas and Mexico, according to Alfonso Garcia Moreno, Caja Popular Mexicana’s director of corporate services. “This will build a tangible relationship that we hope to expand in the future. We want Mexicans to lose the fear of performing transactions in a credit union here. We want them to view this institution the same as they would a financial institution in Mexico. In Mexico, members feel part of their financial institution as a member/owner. We would like credit unions in Texas to make the effort to make them feel the same way, by fostering trust, by helping them understand that the money they put into the credit union will still be here when they come back.” CPM has worked very closely with Texas credit unions and the Texas Credit Union League over the past year to prepare for the successful transfer of remittances. Operational testing of the system began in August, with the first live transactions originating in Florida. After working through “minute” operational details, CPM’s Moreno said the service has been running smoothly. “During the first three weeks of testing, we received 530 transactions in CPM locations for a total of $270,000. About 40% of these remittance recipients were not even CPM members. This has been with no advertising,” he said. “Our vision for the future is to have a shared branching system between credit unions in Texas and Mexico. But first, we must help them feel comfortable with the credit unions here.” CPM has a membership of 560,000 and combined assets of US$526 million. It is ideally situated for the distribution of remittances with most of its 330 branches in the high immigration states of Jalisco, Guanajuato and Oaxaca. According to Dave Grace, financial and regulatory affairs manager of World Council of Credit Unions, the entrance of Caja Popular Mexicana to the existing IRnet distribution network provides Mexicans access to remittances in over 80 rural cities in 15 states that were not currently being served by any of the major banks. -

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