How To Earn The Hispanic Credit Union Seal Of Approval (And Why You Want To)

The Juntos Avanzamos certification program assures Latinos that a credit union speaks their language.

 
 

The number of Juntos Avanzamos-certified credit unions has doubled since the program ― a kind of “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” for serving Hispanic members ― went national in late 2015.

The former Texas Credit Union League developed the designation, which translates to “Together We Advance,” more than a decade ago. It’s now a project of the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions and Coopera, an Iowa-based Hispanic marketing agency.

Today, there are 64 Juntos Avanzamos credit unions in more than 15 states. Each institution is certified as providing products and services needed by the Hispanic communities in the markets they serve — a mix as diverse as the credit unions themselves.

These institutions do things like help members obtain Individual Tax Identification Numbers and offer loans for culturally specific events like the quinceañera — as well as other options aimed at bringing a largely low-income membership into the mainstream financial services market. They also offer a comfortable environment for Hispanics to access the same services that any member would need.

CU QUICK FACTS

North Jersey FCU
Data as of 12.31.16

HQ: Totowa, NJ
ASSETS: $223.2M
MEMBERS: 26,815
BRANCHES: 4
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 0.4%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 6.8%
ROA: 0.20%

“Hispanics use the exact same products as non-Hispanics. The product lineup is not that different,” says Lourdes Cortez, president and CEO of North Jersey Federal Credit Union ($223.2M, Totowa, NJ), the first Juntos Avanzamos credit union in the Garden State, adding that prepaid debit cards and foreign ACH are of particular interest to recent immigrants.

But “Together We Advance” is about more than what’s on the offer sheet.

“Juntos Avanzamos is not product-driven, not solution-driven,” says Pablo DeFilippi, the Federation’s senior vice president for membership and network engagement. “It’s a focus on the relationship, on making sure that everybody knows that everything we have is accessible and available to that marketplace.”

That’s a big marketplace.

The Pew Research Center reported last September that the U.S. Hispanic population has reached 57 million people and, despite a slowing growth rate, still accounted for 54% of total U.S. population growth from 2000 to 2014.

Earning the Juntos Avanzamos designation is a cause for celebration at these credit unions. Check out these photos.

Pablo DeFilippi of the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions and Brenda Dominguez, chief lending officer of Guadalupe Credit Union, chat at the credit union’s Junto Avanzamos celebration in December 2015.

A mariachi band provided the background music during Guadalupe Credit Union’s Juntos Avanzamos ceremony at the credit union’s branch in Espanola, NM.

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) is greeted by Lourdes Cortez of North Jersey FCU at the credit union’s Dec. 13, 2016, celebration of becoming the first Juntos Avanzamos credit union in the Garden State.

It’s hardly a monolithic group, of course, but the people the Juntos Avanzamos credit unions focus on are a big subset of that, and they have specific needs that are a mission fit for credit unions seeking to do good while doing well, the program’s advocates say.

We’re interested in identifying best practices, in creating a knowledge network where these credit unions can share their experiences and encourage one another to do the right thing.

Pablo DeFilippi, Senior Vice President For Membership And Network Engagement, National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions

According to the application process, a Juntos Avanzamos credit union must have bilingual member-facing staff, remittance services, second-chance checking, financial education, board involvement and strategic planning that focuses on serving that population.

A committee reviews the applications. The Texas model calls for re-certification after three years and DeFilippi says the Federation is looking at ways to enhance that process, perhaps with surveys and in-person interviews.

Winona Nava, President/CEO, Guadalupe Credit Union

Lourdes Cortez, President/CEO, North Jersey FCU

Bob Peterson, President/CEO, One Source FCU

“It’s not an issue of enforcing or policing,” he says. “We’re not the NCUA or CFPB. We’re interested in identifying best practices, in creating a knowledge network where these credit unions can share their experiences and encourage one another to do the right thing.”

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Cortez says she expects to see her credit union’s membership grow by 1% to 2% this year because of the Juntos Avanzamos certification the credit union officially earned on Dec. 13, 2016.

“We’ve been serving the Hispanic market for years here in New Jersey,” Cortez says. “This certification not only makes it official and public, it also supports our brand promise.”

According to Cortez, the only major changes at her operation have been training front-line staff on how to open accounts and make loans using ITIN cards and consulate IDs.

Her market includes Paterson, NJ, where the credit union has a branch that serves a membership that’s 60% Hispanic, averages 32.7 years old, and has an average annual household income of $33,000.

That sounds like a sweet spot for a credit union wanting to build relationships for life, serving people who often distrust traditional banking and can be easy targets for exploitation.

“Everything a low-income person pays for costs more,” says the Federation’s DeFilippi. “Juntos Avanzamos credit unions are there to make sure these consumers know where they can go for fair pricing and people who speak their language.”

Speaking The Language

CU QUICK FACTS

One Source FCU
Data as of 12.31.16

HQ: El Paso, TX
ASSETS: $90.6M
MEMBERS: 12,504
BRANCHES: 3
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: -2.4%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: -11.5%
ROA: -1.16%

Speaking the language was the easy part for Bob Peterson. He’s the CEO at One Source Federal Credit Union ($90.6M, El Paso, TX), with a bilingual staff serving a market of nearly 900,000 people that’s more than 80% Latino.

Peterson plans to retire this year after 45 years with his credit union as a member, volunteer, board chair, and then CEO. He worked with the Texas league’s international committee as the Juntos Avanzamos program was developed and continues his work with the Cornerstone Credit Union League, the Texas league’s successor.

Peterson concedes that quantifying the value of certification is not easy, but notes his credit union already was providing many of the products and services his membership needed.

“What we see is the value in making our commitment to the Hispanic members of our entire community known and more visible, and this a good vehicle for doing that,” he says. “They know they can trust us.”

Most families of the immigrant population are of mixed immigration status. Be prepared to treat all with dignity. You can destroy trust by treating a family member poorly.

Winona Nava, Presidet & CEO, Guadalupe Credit Union

Winona Nava knows the value of trust. The president and CEO of Guadalupe Credit Union ($152.4M, Santa Fe, NM) serves a market that is approximately 60% Hispanic, 10% of them immigrants.

CU QUICK FACTS

Guadalupe Credit Union
Data as of 12.31.16

HQ: Santa Fe, NM
ASSETS: $152.4M
MEMBERS: 18,606
BRANCHES: 6
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 9.1%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 5.6%
ROA: 0.73%

She says her credit union is marketing its newly earned Juntos Avanzamos designation the same way it has handled its business development for years. “We promote our general accessibility through face-to-face and trusted partners,” Nava says. “General advertising is not the right approach. You have to gain trust based on relationships.”

Guadalupe already offers products that span the spectrum from share-secured VISA cards to home mortgages. The credit union didn’t have to change anything, but Nava does offer advice for credit unions that want to earn the certification, and, more broadly, serve the burgeoning Hispanic marketplace.

“Provide a welcoming atmosphere, speak the language, and make sure personal interactions are respectful. That’s all crucial from the first time a person comes into the credit union,” she says.

Nava, who’s also currently board chair for the National Credit Union Foundation, adds that 20% of her members are not fully documented.

“This is reflective of the market opportunity,” she says. “Most families of the immigrant population are of mixed immigration status. Be prepared to treat all with dignity. You can destroy trust by treating a family member poorly.”