You offer a range of brochures in Spanish and some of your tellers and call center employees are bilingual – but you still may not be meeting the needs of your Hispanic members.

Anna Peña is client relations manager at Coopera, an Hispanic marketing firm in Des Moines, Iowa, that has worked with CUNA to help credit unions reach Hispanics. She points out you really need to know more than the mere fact that an increasing percentage of your members have Hispanic surnames. Where are they from? How long have they been in the United States?

“One question credit unions ask is if there are different dialects,” Peña said. “The answer is there is one Spanish, just as there is one English, but something called one thing in one country may be called something else in another. It’s like England, Australia and the United States.”

Similar to the way the British might refer to a car’s boot while Americans would call it the trunk, or talk about going to their doctor’s surgery instead of their office, someone from Puerto Rico might use a different term than someone from Mexico.

It can be important to develop a Spanish glossary so Hispanics contacting the credit union hear the same information from each branch. In addition to dialect, Peña said Hispanics from different areas bring varying levels of education and attitudes toward financial services.

They may have experienced periods of extreme inflation or high interest rates that made them question financial institutions. Accounts may or may not have been insured. It can be critical to communicate the fact credit unions are safe and secure.

“There are people from all over, and it’s important credit unions understand the country of origin of their Hispanic membership,” Peña said. In areas like Texas and California you have a high percentage of people who are of Mexican heritage. In some East Coast areas you have higher Dominican and Puerto Rican populations.”

The primary language also shifts significantly depending on how long the person has been in the United States. Peña cites a Pew Hispanic Center study indicating Spanish is the dominant language for 72% of Hispanics living here but born outside the U.S. By the second generation, only 7% are Spanish dominant, 47% bilingual and 46% English dominant. English is the dominant language for 78% of the third generation, 22% are bilingual, and none are Spanish-dominant.

Even so, “If anything, I don’t think it (a need for communication in Spanish) has decreased over time,” Peña said. “Credit unions are asking what is required, what is compliant, what is allowed from a legal standpoint? States such as California have laws, and there are a lot of questions.”

Probably the most frequent question credit unions ask, she continued, is what to translate first. Credit unions often have a lot of material, and wonder where to start. The answer, the Coopera client relations manager suggested, is to identify the most critical materials and then break up your translation effort into phases.

You need a bilingual strategy, Pena continued, and a comprehensive approach ranging from providing marketing materials in Spanish to staffing with bilingual personnel. The website may offer information in Spanish, but if there is no staff to offer bilingual assistance, the effort can fall flat. In addition to language, there’s the issue of the products offered and the processes required to use those products. What are the steps required for an immigrant to open an account?

It’s not surprising a Texas credit union is paying special attention to bilingual communication. Security Service Federal Credit Union in San Antonio with $7 billion in assets has expanded its CallPlus system to offer voice recognition in both English and Spanish with access to credit card transaction history, mobile banking support and other services.

John Worthington, executive vice president, noted there has been a significant influx of Hispanics into Texas and forecasts indicate they will form the majority of the state’s population in a few years.

“That’s been part of our base since we were founded back in 1956. We want to reach out to them.” Worthington said.

He echoed Peña’s comment that Hispanics are not a monolithic group.

“There are people who are of Mexican descent, South American, Central American and European. They have different viewpoints. If you do something in Spanish you have to be careful it is going to be understandable,” Worthington said.

“Some Hispanics want to see brochures and other material in Spanish. There are others who do not, and are in fact offended by it. You have to know the demographics that you’re serving. We’re a regional company. Eighty-five percent of the people in El Paso speak Spanish. Here in San Antonio the majority of Hispanics have been assimilated and can’t speak Spanish.”

And well to the north, you may not think of the Detroit area as one with a large Hispanic population. But the $716 million Credit Union One in suburban Ferndale has been hiring bi-lingual contact center agents.

Scott Bonacorsi, vice president of human resources, explained the southwest area of Detroit, known as Mexicantown, has a large Hispanic population.

“We’ve been very committed to that segment of our membership,” Bonacorsi said. “Most of the staff in our southwest branch is bilingual and we have a couple bilingual agents here at our counseling center in Ferndale.”

However, while it may be easy to hire bilingual employees in San Antonio, it’s more challenging in Motown. Actually, Bonacorsi said, it’s not difficult to hire them – but it is difficult to find them.

“It’s been a challenge we’re constantly trying to overcome,” he said. “We look at open positions to see if bilingual skill has more merit than perhaps cash-handling experience. We try to assess which core competencies are important.”

Bilingual capability can rank high when filling a position at a branch or contact center, anywhere an employee has direct member contact. But financial services may not be an area where someone who is bilingual will typically seek a job, especially in still heavily industrial metro Detroit. So the credit union heads for job fairs, participates in community outreach activities, and keeps in touch with the Mexican consulate.

Networking with churches and the school system, and offering internships to bi-lingual high school students, also helps find job candidates.

“You need an entire recruiting process. You have to work toward it,” Bonacorsi emphasized.