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BOSTON – The Boston New Alliance Task Force may not literally be putting welcome mats at the entrances to local financial institutions, but that’s the idea. The task force had its first meeting January 19 and expects to meet at least quarterly from now on. Their mission: educating new immigrants about financial products and services and encouraging them to use the traditional banking system. The effort involves the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Massachusetts Credit Union League and the Massachusetts Bankers Association. Robert Kimmett, MCUL senior vice president of public relations and marketing, says the idea of forming the group was sparked by local feedback. “Credit union folks, and community bankers as well, realized community leaders were coming in and telling them there was a role to play. For credit union people especially, our roots lie helping people who are outside the mainstream to some extent when it comes to financial services,” Kimmett explains. History books recite the influx of Irish immigrants into Boston years ago. But today, the newcomer groups are different. Many are Spanish-speaking arrivals not just from Mexico but from Central and South America. There is a large Russian-speaking community and pockets of recent arrivals from Asia. Kimmett says the first New Alliance Task Force meeting was primarily an informational session devoted to exploring options. “No real marching orders came out of that,” he indicates. However, “What resonated with me when I heard very articulate people address this issue is the need to make sure we do a good job of communicating what we’re all about.” Overall, the group sees three basic issues facing immigrants: * Needs for specific financial services * Making them feel welcome * Education about the role of financial institutions and the benefits of doing business with them. “Many people new to the United States are skeptical about financial services,” Kimmett notes. “They don’t trust them. They don’t know what to expect. They don’t understand the idea of a fair price for credit. So they need to be aware of the fact they can trust us.” As for making immigrants feel welcome, Kimmett doesn’t think credit unions do anything to make them feel unwelcome. It’s a matter of being proactive, reaching out and inviting people in. “There is a marketing effort that has to be involved,” he says. “Some of it is advertising in the right sources. Some of it is having staff that is comfortable in another language and hiring people from the community. A lot of people get their information from informal channels such as church groups. We need to make sure our message also goes out through those folks. We hear tales of subprime lenders who know how to exploit those channels.” Yes, the whole issue is a large one, Kimmett agrees. “The question is how to get our arms around it and nurture all the best practices,” he says. -

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