LAKE JACKSON, Texas – Texas Dow Employees Credit Union has made learning Spanish more lucrative for staffers. The $800 million credit union has opted to pay all front line employees who pass a Spanish Proficiency Assessment an extra $100 per month. Staffers who do not have direct contact with members can earn an extra $50 per month upon passing the assessment. “Latino populations in Texas will be the majority of our citizens in Texas by 2020. Any business that fails to recognize this, or even worse, refuses to respond due to prejudice, is doomed financially,” said TDECU President/CEO Edward Speed. “We pay premiums for all type of skills in this business. Documented and tested bilingual proficiency certainly deserves appropriate compensation, just like any other required skill. If an employee can provide financial services in two languages to members, we will pay for that certified skill.” Speed developed his own Spanish language skills and cultural understanding by attending the Universidad National Autonomo de Mexico for several years at its San Antonio, Texas campus. Prior to joining TDECU in 2003, Speed was a driving force in the development of San Antonio Federal Credit Union’s year-long Hispanic Learning Initiative which explored how SACU should approach the Latino market. Given the rapidly growing Latino makeup of TDECU’s field of membership, Speed has made the Spanish Language Proficiency Program a top priority. TDECU Director of Training Caite Blout first teamed up with Brazosport College to develop a Spanish Language Proficiency Assessment plan to help identify staffers who could speak, read and write in Spanish. Blount then worked with a committee of TDECU’s Spanish-speaking employees to develop a glossary of financial services terms and definitions that would be included in the assessment, ensuring that regional language differences were recognized. The college charges $125 for the each individual employee assessment, which includes an extended oral interview in Spanish plus the requirement to demonstrate reading and writing skills, with higher weight being given to the verbal ability. Here is how the program works: TDECU pays for the first assessment attempt -pass or fail. Any employee who does not pass the Spanish assessment is given the opportunity to enroll in Spanish classes at one of several area colleges. Upon completion with a grade of C or better, TDECU will reimburse the employee the full amount of the college course. Employees who want to retake the assessment, will be reimbursed by TDECU when they pass. So far some 31 employees have passed the assessment and are receiving the increased pay. The credit union also has plans to start producing marketing materials in the Spanish but Speed says that is a secondary concern. “Latinos, especially those whose family roots are in Mexico, become fully assimilated citizens of the United States, but still retain their cultural roots through multiple generations, even if they do not speak Spanish. Too many executives make the serious mistake of believing that translating brochures into Spanish is the essence of `Hispanic marketing.’ Nothing could be more wrong,” said Speed. “It is first necessary to understand the culture and to develop a warm and welcoming environment, where respect for the Latino member is obvious. Get that right first, then worry about translation later.” -