Reaching Out

CUs take to ferries and float planes to serve indigenous communities.

September 23, 2011
KEYWORDS family , native , services
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Talking billboards

In Australia, Traditional Credit Union (TCU)—the country’s only Aboriginal-owned financial cooperative—faced an unusual dilemma: how to market services to members who neither understand English nor read or write their native language.

The answer: Apply the people’s own communications method and use pictures and storytelling to get their messages across.

Darwin-based TCU was founded in 1994 to serve Australia’s Aboriginal population scattered across the country’s Northern Territory, known locally as the Top End. At one time, the Aboriginal population spoke as many as 200 languages. But in recent years, that number dropped to about 20 languages. Most of these languages are based on oral traditions without corresponding written versions.

To meet the needs of native speakers of Burrara, Djambarrpuyngu, Kriol, Mawng, and other tongues, TCU developed One Mob, One Talk—a series of “talking” posters to market its various financial products.

The billboards use an electronic solution developed by OneTalk Technology, an Australian firm specialized in communicating with Aboriginal populations in their native languages. Each One Mob, One Talk poster illustrates a certain service, with corresponding audio cartridges describing the service and how to use it in the members’ native language.

As the products change, new images can be posted and audio cartridges can be inserted to keep the display current. “For staff and members who speak English only as a second or third language, the posters help them grasp simple concepts about banking and money management,” says Anne Shew, TCU’s training and development manager.

Although the posters help educate members about financial services, branch staff still struggle with longstanding cultural issues about money that affect the population. “Part of the Aboriginal culture is to share wealth with family members in need,” says Robin Lacey, human resource manager for the 7,000-member credit union. “How much you can demand depends on where you are in the family hierarchy.”

By cultural standards, what you have to share also covers what you have access to, which includes loans through the credit union. A family member who can get a credit union loan is expected to do so, then share the proceedings with those who can’t get loans.

Failure to do so can result in a “shaming” of family members, says Morgan Hoyes, TCU’s business development manager. “There’s often pressure exerted by family members to do wrong, and that’s called ‘humbug,’ ” he says, describing an Aboriginal slang term for begging. “It’s as if they’re saying ‘I’ve done wrong with my money, and now I expect you to do wrong with yours.’ ”

TCU promotes financial education within the context of cultural issues, something Hoyes says government programs don’t do well. The credit union has even created a “deflection” program to protect members from having their transaction information shared with family members.

TCU believes it’s making progress in these and other areas of financial education, but the going has been slow, Lacey notes. “It’s not going to happen overnight.”

Next: 'Just like you' 

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