At Hiway FCU, we discovered that that we could do well by doing good. It has been a success story for us that is on-going and that we continue to look forward to as we grow.
What we did was reach out to the Hmong (pronounced “mung”) community in St. Paul. Minnesota has the most Hmong in the nation, about 60,000, of which about 20,000 live in St. Paul. The Hmong are from the Laos/Cambodia region, and they began coming to Minnesota right after the Vietnam War. When South Vietnam fell, many men who had fought for the South emigrated for fear of possible retaliation by the North Vietnamese. Since that time, many have sponsored their families to immigrate here as well.
A Start in the Hmong Community
Hiway FCU began in 1931 as a credit union for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. We still are a one-building credit union. We have 51,000 members and $650 million in assets.
MnDOT has not been growing significantly over the last decades. We did not want to develop into a branching credit union but rather remain in one building and increasingly rely on electronic interactions. Yet we were worried about our growth. Six years ago NCUA offered us a charter to serve a low-income neighborhood in St. Paul, one that had a high concentration of Hmong.
The Hmong have traditionally been bank-averse and disposed toward cash. They did not have checking accounts but used money orders, and preferred to keep cash at home rather than open savings accounts. They also have close-knit families. They are not swayed by billboards or newspaper advertisements but rely instead on word-of-mouth.
We began to attract Hmong, and satisfied members told family members. Our credit union began to grow again. We experienced Hmong membership growth of 30% last year despite not seeing growth in MnDOT. Although our average member age is 45, our average Hmong member age is 33. Thus we can look forward to lending to the Hmong as well as growing their savings.
Our Hmong Activities
Besides word of mouth, we participate in activities that help us become more visible to the Hmong community. We work with a Voluntary Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site. We help the Hmong fill out their tax forms, then encourage them to join us, set up an account and receive their refunds electronically.
We participate in the Hmong New Year. We advertise in all three Hmong newspapers. We partner in a charter school that is 80% Hmong. In this effort, we help with tutoring and donate money for books; we also encourage our SEGs to participate and donate as well.
We do a good deal of financial literacy at the Hmong community center.
As our Hmong membership has grown, we have hired Hmong tellers as bilingual employees. We also have Hmong member service reps, consumer loan reps, real estate loan advisors and more. In all, 15% of our staff is Hmong.
Moving Hmong to Credit Union Services
Seven years ago, before we made a point of reaching out to the Hmong, they relied very heavily on cash. They cashed their checks at the local check cashers, paying substantial fees. They bought money orders. The cash they kept at home earned no interest. Now our Hmong membership has relatively more checking accounts than our regular membership (59% vs. 44%). The younger generations of Hmong are taking readily to credit union technology. They use debit cards and direct deposit. The second language on our ATMs is not Spanish but Hmong.
Helping the Community
Thus we have done well by doing good. We have been a very important beneficial force in the Hmong community. In turn, the Hmong have helped us with hard-working employees, a younger membership, and a source for loans. Our venture into helping the community in which we operate has benefited us in equal portion.
Recapturing the role as a social innovator is one topic to be discussed as part of a new strategic options course, “Shaping the Playing Field for Credit Union Success”, for senior credit union executives being developed by Callahan & Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, underwritten by PSCU Financial Services. For more information on the Sept. 21-24, 2006 course, contact Leigh Anne Terry at 800-446-7453 or go on line at www.Callahan.com/custrategies