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LEON, Mexico – Caja Popular Mexicana – the largest credit union in Mexico – is one step closer to realizing its vision of a shared branching network with its cooperative counterparts in the United States. Several representatives from the Texas credit union movement witnessed the signing of an agreement April 16 between CPM and Fiserv that will allow CPM to operate all of its 327 branches on the same data processing system, as opposed to 13 different systems. The move culminates 16 months of research by CPM, with the assistance of U.S. credit union information technology professionals, to find a system that will enable them to more favorably compete with Mexican banks. In addition to centralizing operations, CPM expects the new platform to facilitate the expansion of delivery channels, the addition of new products and services to its 691,000 members, and risk management assessment (CPM’s current delinquency ratio of 5.75% may make American credit unions gasp, but it has been reduced from 15.33% a decade ago). “It was wonderful to be present at the signing of the agreement between CPM and Fiserv,” commented Dora Gonzalez, vice president of member services for NAFT FCU. “I agree with the CPM that shared branching would be mutually beneficial, and I definitely see it as a real possibility.” Joining Gonzalez on the trip to Mexico was Lynette Webb-Rambo of Chocolate Bayou Community FCU in Alvin, Frances Al-Waely of Denton Area Teachers CU and Linda Webb-Maon of the Texas Credit Union League. In addition to the press conference, the Texas representatives attended CPM’s Annual Meeting, toured their administrative office and took in the sights of Guanajuato. The Annual Meeting, attended by more than 450 CPM members, was a memorable experience for the four Texans, which have mastery of the Spanish language ranging from minimal to fluent. Of greatest interest to them was the credit union “anthem,” led by a choir and sung by all in attendance. The song’s words included a pledge to assist CPM members with “valor” and “integrity.” The visit to Leon made Maon understand that credit unions wanting to reach Hispanics have to do more than spend marketing dollars. “I am not bilingual, and being in Mexico when you are unfamiliar with the surroundings and you don’t know the language can be very intimidating. It puts things in perspective. Imagine how an immigrant new to this country must feel – intimidated, insecure. How uncomfortable it is to have to rely on someone else to help you navigate. I think when we are able to experience this for ourselves, it makes us more compassionate toward those who come to this country and find themselves in that very situation.” The Texas representatives learned that the CPM struggles with many of the same issues credit unions in the U.S. face when trying to reach out to their Hispanic communities. According to Marco Fernando Avia, CPM’s sub director regional noreste, 90-95% of Mexico’s population is unbanked. There is, he said, a huge income disparity in Mexico and far too many Mexicans have been denied access to affordable financial services. Fernando said Mexico President Vicente Fox has been very supportive of the CPM’s efforts to bring the unbanked into the financial mainstream. CPM IT Director Rene Vasquez Perez pointed out that the unbanked in Mexico are the very people crossing the border to find work in the United States. They are bringing with them their inexperience in the banking system. Vasquez said CPM is making every effort to reach the unbanked in Mexico, and he encouraged credit unions in the U.S. to do the same. “This was truly an enlightening experience for me. The opportunity to experience Mexican culture first hand has given me greater insight into serving our Hispanic members,” said Al-Waely, whose credit union, Denton Area Teachers CU, has 13 percent Hispanic population. “I share Vasquez’ sentiments. I certainly see the value in building relationships with people that share the same mission and purpose we do.” Several CPM officials will visit DATCU May 6 to glean ideas from the credit union’s human resources and marketing departments and to participate in Cinco de Mayo festivities. Rambo said the CPM visit clearly illustrated that the credit union movement has no borders. “We are a worldwide movement sharing the same goals. The message of `people helping people’ transcends borders, languages and cultures. I am proud to be part of this mission and my experience in Mexico further cements my commitment to this movement.” -

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