MADISON, Wis. (5/22/09)--Roughly half of children under age 5 are minorities, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released Wednesday. As the nation’s population becomes more diverse, credit unions will need to change the way they reach out to potential members, according to several credit union representatives. Phil Heckman, Credit Union National Association (CUNA) director of youth programs, said credit unions will need to change the way they reach out to youth, but noted that “immigrant populations with strong family ties present credit unions with a better opportunity to reach the children through the parents and the parents through the children.” Erayne Gee Hill, director of community and public relations at Unity One CU in Fort Worth, Texas, echoed similar thoughts. Unity One has successfully reached out to the Hispanic community in the Fort Worth area, she said. “[Credit unions] will have to change the way we communicate and which part of the population we target,” Hill told News Now
. The most important way to reach out is to be visible, she said. Unity One uses its mascot to reach children under 5, and has opened an in-school branch at an elementary school. “At the start of the 2008 school year, the kids had deposited more than $21,000. Our branch staff reads every Wednesday at the neighborhood library branch, and we have become very recognizable,” she said. The credit union also formed an advisory board of community leaders, immigrants and Mexican officials when it opened a new branch in a predominantly Hispanic area of the city. “One important thing that we learned was that we should hire staff who were from the area and spoke fluent Spanish,” Hill said. “We did that, and today all employees at the branch are familiar with the area and speak Spanish fluently. It has made a difference. While this branch was first viewed as a risk by our critics, it has thrived.” Credit unions also can generate ideas about outreach just by talking to members who represent the minority they are trying to reach. Unity One recently launched a Quinceanera savings account. Quinceaneras are parties, or coming-of-age ceremonies that celebrate young Hispanic women who have turned 15. The idea for the account was generated from staff talking to members. “Our staff is good at engaging people,” Hill said. “They talk to people and get ideas about what we can do.” Josh Allison, relationship management officer, Horizon CU, Spokane, Wash., said his credit union has had a successful experience reaching out to Hispanics through a local high school. Horizon CU recently built a branch that is located just a few hundred yards from Moses Lake High School and has a large number of Hispanic students. Horizon wanted to reach out to them, but knew that historically, many Hispanics distrust banking institutions because the financial systems in some Hispanic countries are corrupt. To break down the barrier of distrust, Horizon worked with the high school to offer presentations in classes and invited students to become members of the credit union. The credit union has conducted field trips and scavenger hunts to the credit union, where students met with member service representatives and built relationships with them. “It worked,” Allison told News Now
. Many Hispanic students ended up becoming members of Horizon, he added. Allison added that with the help of the credit union trips, resources from Junior Achievement and the National Endowment for Financial Education High School Planning Program, students increased their financial literacy knowledge. Students started with a 43.75% average concept familiarity percentage and increased it to a 76.75% by the end of the semester, he said. Bellwether Community CU, Manchester, N.H., participated in a Latino festival last summer and provided information sheets about its products in Spanish. It also has worked to increase bilingual staff at its branches. “We try to provide Spanish language materials if we are presenting or appearing in a market that has a higher percentage of the Hispanic community,” Madeline Anderson, Bellwether marketing manager, told News Now
. Lin Standke, CUNA manager of youth programs, suggested that when reaching out to any potential member, credit unions first get their community’s demographics--including ages, ethnicities and location. “When you know where people live, work, shop, go to school you can make better decisions about how to reach them,” Standke told News Now
. Credit unions can contact school districts to see what financial education they offer and whether the credit union can offer teaching assistance or set up an in-school branch. Partnerships with local churches and service organizations also can help credit unions serve the population they want to reach. Other suggestions:
* Start an advisory board for youth and adults; * Hire staff that are multilingual and cross cultural; * Teach staff how to work with multi-cultural staff and membership; * Develop marketing materials, forms or signs that are multilingual and cross cultural; and * Examine products and services to determine if any need to be or can be adapted to serve multicultural members.
In addition to outreach, credit unions also need to build relationships. “For many minorities, trust is an important factor,” Standke said. Also, bring along staff members who represent the minority you’re trying to reach, Allison added. In addition to outreach, credit unions need to commit to serving minorities in their mission statement and strategic plan, Standke said. “If you don't, your efforts will be short lived and you'll lose the respect of the community,” she said.