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Hispanic Heritage Month: Growth About Learning, Inclusiveness
AURORA, Colo. (9/25/13)--As credit unions mark Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15-Oct. 15, Fitzsimons FCU, Aurora, Colo., is entering the second stage of a three-phase, five-year process to grow its membership in a way that better reflects the makeup of its local population.
The Aurora, Colo.-area has about a 26% percent Hispanic population, according to Fitzsimons CU President/CEO Sandy Neves. In 2011, Fitzsimons FCU's membership was about 12% Hispanic members.
"We just decided not only is it a business imperative, but we also wanted to serve the underserved," Neves told News Now.
Working with Coopera, a Hispanic growth firm that serves credit unions, Fitzsimons FCU developed on a five-year plan to more closely integrate the Hispanic marketplace into its membership.
"One of our mottos is, 'This is a marathon, not a sprint," Neves said. "It is going to take time, and you have to do it right. I'm not a patient person. I want things overnight, but this is a learning process, and it involved everyone in our credit union."
In the first, discovery, stage of the process, the credit union laid the groundwork for serving the Hispanic marketplace. This 18-month process included cultural education, budgeting, training and new product development. The credit union also added a Hispanic advisory board.
The first stage "doesn't net us anything," Neves said. "It's sheer work and commitment. We surveyed at the board level, the executive level, and the staff level to determine our level of commitment, then we trained in-house, developed new products and really took the time to learn more about our community."
Among new products the credit union offers Hispanic members is a checking program, a payday alternative loan, reloadable debit cards, remittance transaction, a noninterest-bearing savings account for members without Social Security numbers, financial education and a credit builder program.
Fitzsimons FCU also hired more bilingual employees. "We primarily hired them through attrition," Neves said. "We made a conscious decision to hire bilingual employees."
This year, Fitzsimons entered the second, emerging stage, in which it has begun serving the Hispanic marketplace. "Now we hope to see membership growth," Neves said. "We also hope to decrease the average age of our membership and increase our loan volume."
The credit union has partnered with a local crisis center to provide financial education to affected families. "We have also reached out to church groups and met with the Mexican consulate," Neves said.  "Little by little we are developing trust in the community."
In developing that trust, Fitzsimons will begin to reach the third, or best practices stage of its Hispanic outreach strategy: Being recognized as the preferred financial institution within the local Hispanic market.
The admittedly impatient Neves has learned not to expect overnight results. But she believes Fitzsimons is on the right track because of its organization-wide commitment to understanding and inclusiveness.
"The CEO has to guide this, the board has to be behind it every step of the way," Neves said. Everything flows from that: My executive team, IT, marketing, everyone is represented. Our Hispanic employees also advise us. We are more educated at every level of the organization."
Removing barriers, fostering service excellence and raising awareness about the value credit unions provide their members and communities are the foundation for the Credit Union National Association's, state credit union leagues' and credit unions' Unite For Good campaign toward a vision in which Americans choose credit unions as their best financial provider.

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