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FARMERS BRANCH, Texas – With the hopes of empowering Texas credit unions to promote immigrant-friendly financial services to Hispanic communities across the state, the Texas Credit Union League in partnership with Texas Appleseed, a non-profit organization dedicated to building a just society through legal advocacy, community activism and policy expertise, has launched a statewide grassroots Hispanic outreach program. In Texas, Hispanics account for nearly one-third of the population, but nearly half of Texas Hispanics are “unbanked.” As long as these individuals continue to utilize non-traditional financial service providers, TCUL believes they will be less likely to achieve their financial goals. The Hispanic outreach program, which consists of four components – focus groups, “train the trainer” financial education seminars, International Remittance Network (IRNet) workshops, and “Serving the New American” speaking engagements – is the League’s plan for informing this market of the favorable alternative offered by credit unions. The program kicked off earlier this month in Dallas – the site of the first of six focus groups being conducted around the state. The focus groups are intended to gauge awareness among Hispanic consumers about credit unions, money management, financial planning, credit, etc. Armed with the resulting information, TCUL believes credit unions will have a better understanding of the needs of the Hispanic market and how they can best serve this largely unbanked segment of the population. TCUL has partnered with Hispanic organizations in Dallas, Fort Worth, Rio Grande City, Houston, Austin, and El Paso to host the focus groups, which consist of 10-15 participants from the respective Hispanic communities. Feedback from the groups will be compiled into a report to credit unions. Juan Jose Salgado with the Dallas Mexican Consulate office attended the Dallas event and commented that Hispanic outreach is a worthwhile endeavor. Many of these individuals, he said, come to this country in search of greater opportunity. A relationship with a supportive financial institution can be instrumental in helping them build financial wealth. Focus groups are just one element of the outreach program, according to Linda Maon, TCUL communications director. The League also will offer regional “train the trainer” seminars that prepare credit union staff to teach financial education in their communities. Through credit union involvement, TCUL hopes to educate Hispanic consumers on the benefits and safety of having a credit union relationship and on the economic problems of a cash economy. Sponsoring financial education seminars, Maon said, will help credit unions begin building trust in Hispanic communities. To support the need for financial education, TCUL officials refer to a nationwide telephone survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center/Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation of more than 4,000 Hispanic adults and their financial situations. The survey found that while 64% of survey participants were employed, 28% of them reported having difficulty making their mortgage or rent payment. A startling 66% said they were unable to save money for the future, and 42% said they believe it does no good to plan for the future because they have no control over it. “We do not believe this survey reflects a lack of desire among Hispanic consumers to achieve financial freedom – on the contrary,” stated a report on the League’s Web site. “State Farm Insurance conducted its own survey and found that 87% of Hispanic adults in its survey believe that their `most important financial goal is to make sure they leave something for their family,’ while just 38% of the general population put a similar emphasis on passing on wealth to their families. Unfortunately, the State Farm survey also revealed that a large percentage of Hispanics surveyed were `very concerned about their family’s financial well-being.’” As the third component in the outreach program, TCUL has partnered with Vigo Remittance Corporation and the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) to conduct a series of workshops to help credit unions understand the value of remittances as a tool for facilitating service to the Hispanic community. The workshop also will provide suggestions for marketing the IRNet product to Hispanic consumers. Lastly, the League has engaged Dr. Juan Hernandez, a former cabinet member in the Mexican government and a crusader for immigrant rights, to assist TCUL in its Hispanic outreach efforts. Hernandez has often said that Mexicans, whom he calls the “new Americans,” are enriching American culture and helping to shape this country just as the immigrants before them did. While credit unions have a great deal of information about the Hispanic market, Hernandez does not think they necessarily have a great understanding of their culture and traditions. To address this issue, he will begin making presentations at credit union chapter meetings on “Serving the New American.” While many individual credit unions already have Hispanic outreach programs in place, TCUL officials believe formalizing efforts to bring the underserved into the financial mainstream will lend momentum to the process. -

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