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Reaching Immigrants

What is meant by reaching out to immigrants?

Immigrants often arrive in this country with little in the way of financial assets. Many are unfamiliar with or distrusting of financial institutions because in their countries of origin, banks tend to serve the wealthy or can be corrupt. As a result, many immigrants operate on a cash basis using neighborhood check cashers to cash their payroll checks. Reaching out to these “New Americans” means offering a range of non-traditional products such as check cashing, international wire transfers, and SAFE accounts (non-interest bearing accounts) and allowing them to conduct business in their native languages. It means making them feel respected and welcome in credit union lobbies.

Who are the immigrants?

Immigrants are defined as persons living in the United States who were not U.S. citizens at birth. According to the 2007 Current Population Survey collected by the Census Bureau, there were 37.3 million immigrants in the country, including an estimated 11.3 million illegal immigrants. The region of birth for the immigrant population in the U.S. is as follows:

  • All Latin America 54.6%
    • Mexico 31.3%
    • Caribbean 9.1%
    • South America 7.3%
    • Central America 7.0%
  • East/Southeast Asia 17.6%
  • Europe 12.5%
  • South Asia 5.5%
  • Middle East 3.5%
  • Sub-Saharan Africa 2.8%
  • Canada 1.9%
  • Other 1.7%

Why should credit unions care?

Competition to serve this market is heating up because banks and other financial service providers realize the size of the market. While immigrants may start out earning modest incomes and hold modest levels of wealth, many will climb the social and economic ladders with time. They will want financial institutions that can meet their unique financial needs in a manner that makes them feel comfortable and accepted.

What can credit unions do?

Building trust is critical when establishing relationships with an immigrant market. Credit unions can find strategic community partners who already have a connection with this market and build alliances. The community partner can educate the credit union on how best to reach and serve this market and even make referrals to the credit union. In turn, the credit union must respect and make these new members feel welcome and provide services in their native language. The best method to accomplish this is to hire employees from the neighborhood it wishes to serve.

Village Credit Union

Des Moines, IA

Hispanic Initiative – Village Credit Union » View details

Village Credit Union uses a Hispanic Outreach Advisory Group to provide advice and input to the credit union regarding its outreach efforts to the Hispanic community. The credit union’s Hispanic Community Development Director serves as a bridge between community organizations working with Hispanic families and the credit union. Overall membership growth for 2009 was 5.8% and the percentage of Hispanic members increased from 3% a year ago to 9% of members today.

Greater Iowa

Ames, IA

Hispanic Initiative – Greater Iowa Credit Union » View details

Greater Iowa Credit Union’s mission is to be the financial institution of trust in each community it serves. That has created some challenges for the credit union, particularly at its Denison branch where the community is 40% Latino and 60% Anglo. The largest employer in the community is Farmland Foods and many of its employees may be undocumented. The credit union has responded by accepting alternative identification forms and accepting ITINs in lieu of SSNs.

Guadalupe Credit Union

Santa Fe, NM

Hispanic Initiative - Guadalupe Credit Union » View details

Santa Fe, New Mexico is tri-cultural: Indian, Hispanic, and Anglo. The membership at Guadalupe Credit Union is 75% Hispanic. At a strategic planning session in 2001, the board and management made the decision to reach out to its Hispanic immigrant community and provide needed products and services. “That turned out to be a major initiative that is still unfolding and helping us grow each year,” says Winona Nava, president and chief executive officer.

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