PHOENIX, Ariz. – In what the event's facilitator described as a "huge sharing of resources," about 30 individuals recently gathered here for an International Roundtable to flesh out ideas for improving financial service to Hispanics on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border. Sponsored by the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) and the Texas and California Credit Union Leagues, attendees included representatives from individual credit unions and leagues in the four U.S./Mexico border states – Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California – as well as officials from Caja Popular Mexicana (CPM), Mexico's largest credit union. "The group had two sets of positive outcomes," said WOCCU's Lucy Ito, who facilitated the session. "Each border state recommitted to various partnerships between the U.S. and Mexico. TCUL and CCUL will continue their work with CPM, and they agreed on a list of priority action items for 2004. The Arizona league has established a partnership with another credit union, Caja Libertad, and the New Mexico league is entering into an agreement with Alianza." "Secondly, the group discussed their experiences with outreach initiatives to Hispanics and other new Americans. They shared many fun ideas that are already being used effectively." Among the many examples of Hispanic outreach cited by Ito were: ATM and audio response services in English and Spanish, a Latino listserv and webinars, a mobile credit union branch that is deployed to Hispanic communities, the formation of a CUSO to provide affordable housing to individuals living in the Mexican `colonias' region, and credit reports in Spanish. In addition, credit unions currently accepting the matricula consular as identification in their institutions spent time "demystifying" the procedure for others, Ito said. CPM Chief Financial Officer David Torres unveiled his organization's strategic plan for 2003-2007, placing strong emphasis on alliances with other credit union organizations and on business development. CPM wants to see its membership grow from its current level of 650,000 to 1 million by 2007. The credit union movement in Mexico differs from the United States in that no field of membership restrictions exist in Mexico. Another area CPM has targeted for growth is remittances. In September, CPM launched its International Remittance Network (IRnet) program, and all CPM branches are now able to send and receive remittances. Torres reported that CPM conducted 600,000 remittances during October, but only 1,320 originated from U.S. credit unions. The group discussed how it could increase IRnet usage, and the consensus was a joint marketing effort to better reach Hispanic family members in the U.S. CPM is working with U.S. credit unions to help them better understand the cultural differences between Mexicans and Americans. Torres said technology will be a prime focus of CPM over the next several years. "The credit unions on this (U.S.) side of the border are more technologically advanced than we are and it is reflected in the level of products and services they are able to provide," Torres said. "Developing a technology platform is a key focus for us and we are exploring our options." CPM officials have conducted numerous visits to credit unions in the United States to gain input on technology issues. Discussion of outreach to U.S. immigrants was not limited to Hispanics, Ito said. "Many credit unions are already making the extra effort to reach other new Americans, including those coming to the U.S. from countries such as Vietnam and Africa." -

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