When Maria Martinez moved to the U.S. from Mexico, she had no idea what a credit union was—until she started working for one.
Martinez, chair of the Network of Latino Credit Unions & Professionals and CEO of Border Federal Credit Union in Del Rio, Texas, isn’t unique in that regard. “Most of my family is still confused with the idea,” she told the 7th Latino Credit Union Conference in San Diego on Saturday.
Although many Hispanics have had bad experiences with financial institutions in their native countries, that’s changing, Martinez says. This change can only help credit unions in the U.S.
“There’s a lot of room for credit unions in the Hispanic market,” she says. “Hispanics are leaving banks, and that’s where credit unions come in. If we do good for them and make them feel wanted, they’ll be back—and they’ll bring 10 people with them.
“We have better products and services—and better-looking staff,” she joked.
There’s no use fighting long-term demographic trends, adds Lucy Ito, senior vice president of the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues. According to U.S. Census data:
- Minority births have outpaced white births in the U.S. for the first time;
- Hispanic births accounted for 26% of the nation’s births;
- The white population is no longer the majority in 348 of the country’s 3,006 counties; and
- Minorities accounted for 92% of U.S. population growth from 2000 to 2010.
“These are compelling figures—we need to wake up the credit union system to these statistics,” Ito says. “We knew this would happen 20 years ago. The future arrived 12 months ago.
“This is a God-send for our country,” she adds. “We’ll have people to support our seniors—we won’t become top-heavy with old people.”
Credit unions need to make Hispanic outreach a priority, says Mike Mercer, president/CEO of Georgia Credit Union Affiliates and CUNA Chairman. Doing so would infuse the credit union movement with much-needed youth.
He cited several credit union system resources that can help credit unions approach and serve the Hispanic community:
- The Hispanic Resource Center, which will be housed on creditunionmagazine.com;
- An updated “quick-start” guide to help credit unions enter this market;
- The partnership between CUNA and Coopera, the industry’s leader in Hispanic outreach;
- The Juntos Avanzamos program started by the Texas Credit Union League; and
- El Poder es Tuyo, a Spanish language personal finance website.
Credit unions need to be aware that “the Hispanic community is diverse, with many different nations or origin,” Mercer says. “It’s not just new immigrants.
Likewise, the Hispanic community needs to know more about credit unions, he adds. “We need to educate the Hispanic community about the credit union difference, using financial education as a tool. And we need to recruit bilingual and bicultural staff. This is very important to the credit union movement.”