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The Evolving Demographics Of The USA
As first seen on CUmanagement.com on September 20th, 2023. Authored by Víctor Miguel Corro, Coopera CEO.
Unveiling cultural nuances in reaching Latinos
The United States of America has long been a nation built by immigrants seeking new opportunities and better lives. Over the decades, the country's demographics have undergone significant transformations, with one of the most noticeable shifts being the rising numbers of the Latino population. As this demographic change continues to shape the fabric of the nation, businesses and brands must adapt by understanding the cultural complexities that define this very nuanced community. The first thing to understand is how this is not a neatly defined constituency, but rather an amalgam of lived experiences. To effectively engage with Latinos, credit unions need to go beyond surface-level outreach to gain a profound understanding of their diverse identities and experiences. As we celebrate the Hispanic Heritage Month, here are some thoughts about this community.
The Latino Demographic Landscape
The Latino population in the U.S. has been growing at a remarkable pace, and projections suggest that this trend will continue in the coming years. Latinos constitute nearly 20% of the total population, making them the largest ethnic minority group in the country. 63 million people strong, this group encompasses individuals from diverse countries such as Mexico, Argentina, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and more, each contributing distinct cultural elements to the broader U.S. Latino identity.
Cultural Nuances: A Necessity, Not an Option
To effectively tap into this burgeoning market, credit unions must recognize that Latinos are not a monolithic group. Within this demographic lies a rich tapestry of languages, traditions and values, each tied to their specific country of origin. An outreach effort by any organization requires deep understanding of the generation, language fluency in English and Spanish, country of origin and acculturation level to the U.S. A one-size-fits-all approach will undoubtedly fall short in resonating with the various segments of the Latino population.
Language as a Bridge
Language is a cornerstone of culture, serving as both a barrier and a bridge to effective communication. Spanish remains a vital aspect of the Latino experience, especially among first-generation immigrants. A multilingual approach to marketing can be the key to unlocking this demographic's potential. Brands that cater to Spanish speakers demonstrate a willingness to meet Latinos where they are, and in doing so, establish a foundation of trust and understanding. However, it's important to note that not all Latinos speak Spanish, particularly second and third-generation individuals who may primarily use English. A nuanced understanding of language preferences is therefore paramount.
Cultural Celebrations and Traditions
Embracing cultural celebrations and traditions is another avenue for credit unions to connect with the Latino demographic. Family celebrations and Latin American national holidays hold significant cultural importance for many Latinos. However, it's essential for brands to approach these occasions with sensitivity and respect, avoiding tokenism or cultural appropriation. A genuine appreciation for these festivities can create meaningful connections, but only when driven by authenticity and cultural awareness. For example, don’t expect a Cinco de Mayo celebration at your branches to appeal if your local market is mostly of Caribbean descent. And if you highlight Cinco de Mayo, have a clear understanding of its context and meaning.
Representation matters deeply to all communities, and Latinos are no exception. Including Latino voices and faces in marketing campaigns, product design, and decision-making processes not only reflects inclusivity but also acknowledges the unique perspectives and contributions of this demographic. Authentic representation goes beyond ticking boxes; it involves meaningful engagement and partnership with Latino communities to ensure that their narratives are accurately portrayed.
Localizing Marketing Efforts
Understanding the regional diversity within the Latino population is a crucial step toward effective engagement. Latinos in different parts of the U.S. may have distinct preferences and cultural norms, influenced by the region they reside in—and the family’s country of origin. Tailoring marketing strategies to cater to these regional differences demonstrates a commitment to understanding the intricacies of Latino identities.
The changing demographics of the United States, with the significant growth of the Latino population, present both challenges and opportunities for our industry. To create relevant and impactful connections, we must embark on a journey of cultural discovery and sensitivity. Acknowledging the diverse backgrounds, languages and traditions within the Latino demographic is not only respectful but also smart business practice.
Víctor Miguel Corro is CEO of Coopera Consulting. He has over 25 years of experience working in international and cross-cultural environments in the private and non-profit sectors.
For over five years he has been at the helm of Coopera Consulting, a market analytics and cultural change consulting firm that engages organizations and prepares them to reach out and serve underserved market segments. Corro is co-founder and first chair of the Credit Union DEI Collective, an expanding group within the credit union movement devoted to furthering DEI, a shared cooperative principle.
Victor is a first-generation immigrant to the U.S. and was born and raised in Panama. He came to study at the University of Wisconsin as a Fulbright Scholar. He has degrees in International Economics and Latin American Studies. He has worked in 90+ countries, is an avid photographer, serves on several boards, and currently lives in Wisconsin with his wife and two children.
Expanding Your Reach Through the Power of Translation
As first seen on CUInsight.com on August 22, 2023. Authored by Alondra Vazquez, CUDE, Coopera Analytics Specialist.
Growing up as an immigrant, I was my parents’ translator. As soon as my siblings and I learned enough English to be considered fluent, we began translating at parent-teacher conferences, at stores when our parents had to make a return, or to order delivery on the weekends. Our parents’ 8-5 jobs didn’t allow for much time to take English classes – and when they did have time, they tried to spend most of it with us. Their inability to communicate in English created many barriers for them financially and professionally, including opening bank accounts to applying for loans and starting their own business. In the early 2000’s there were few financial resources in Spanish available in our community.
In this day and age, I get frequent ads on Hulu, Peacock and other streaming services in Spanish. From insurance agencies to car dealerships and big banks, companies are translating their messaging to Spanish. When I take a walk at the local park, the “Park Rules” are now listed in English and Spanish. At my local DMV office, residents have the option to take their written driver’s test in Spanish. Government entities, schools, and hospitals have invested in Spanish materials and hired bilingual staff, because Spanish communication is no longer a “nice to have” but a requirement to fully serving communities. As many industries make adjustments and changes to accommodate Spanish language, credit unions can’t be left behind.
Credit unions are increasingly seeing value in creating growth strategies to increase multicultural membership, including ways to be more effective at communicating with members in their preferred language. To support these initiatives, it is critical that credit unions develop specific benchmarks to successfully implement multicultural strategies – such as hiring bilingual personnel, community development partnerships and translating materials. It is essential to methodically track progress for each of these benchmarks on an annual basis in order to prioritize which needs are being met in a timely manner and consider if new benchmarks need to be created to reach the goal of enhancing member communications.
There are over 42.5 million Spanish-speaking individuals in the U.S., making us the 2nd largest population of Spanish-speakers in the world! More and more companies are making the decision to translate, market and create user-experiences in Spanish, not as a new strategy but as a necessity. However, in the credit union industry it is often seen as a risk or legal implication. Coopera’s history of tracking Hispanic member growth in the credit union industry proves that the leading ethnic group to growing credit union membership is Hispanics. Not only are Hispanics increasing credit union membership, but they are lowering the average age of members, with many of them being under the age of 40, making them the most active in their financial needs. Coopera’s data shows that the top trending products with Hispanic members are checking accounts and auto loans, and there are high penetration rates with mobile banking apps and debit card usage. The business case for Spanish resources is significant, but where does a credit union begin to translate materials?
During my time at Elevations Credit Union, a $3B asset size credit union in Colorado, I began the translation process by auditing all the forms and materials we could translate. I didn’t realize what an undertaking this was until I got started! The questions started rolling in: How do we prioritize, track and manage the files we translate? How do we create processes for translating, reviewing and auditing files on a yearly basis? What kept the process from being overwhelming was remembering that the goal was not how fast we could translate materials, but how effective and efficient we could be while doing so.
Here are five steps to consider when starting your translation journey.
Gain buy-in from credit union leaders: You have the data, you know the competitors in your area, now you need support. A translation strategy will need resources and a budget.
Hire a translations vendor (Yes – even if you have bilingual employees): A professional translator will ensure your translations are accurate and relevant. And no, Google Translate does not count.
Hold a meeting with your compliance team: Compliance teams will provide the project champion with guidance in prioritizing compliant forms, letters and notices.
Create an internal bilingual team to review the translations: While most translation vendors review translations, you will want to make sure that an internal staff member (or two) reviews the translations for accuracy. Who do you want to find an error, an employee or a member?
Prioritize your materials and EXECUTE: You can use Tier I, II, and III or from Easy, Intermediate, to Hard. Which materials can you translate immediately? Which materials will take you the most time to translate? What can you translate in-house and what needs to be sent to a vendor?
The most common barrier we see from our clients is internal bilingual capabilities. Our advice? Don’t let this be the reason you don’t start! While increasing the number of bilingual staff members should likely be a top priority for your credit union, you shouldn’t let a lack of bilingual staff derail your growth initiatives. Chances are that you have already attracted Spanish-speaking members and they will continue to bank with you, so why not improve their member experience? There are both temporary and permanent solutions that can solve your limited bilingual capabilities. Consider hiring an over-the-phone interpreting service, so credit union staff can serve non-English speaking members. Another solution is expanding availability of your bilingual personnel within the organization, this could be done by building an internal bilingual directory, creating an email group (example: español@abccu.com), or a hunt group number that distributes calls to bilingual staff members’ direct lines.
Here are some of the “low hanging fruit” we recommend our clients translate at the beginning of their translation journey:
Branch notices (Holiday closures, early closures, etc.)
Ways to identify bilingual staff members (business cards or name tags)
Translating these materials will guarantee to improve member experience, while creating a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere. “Hispanohablantes” will appreciate any effort grande or pequeño. Taking on projects addressing multicultural growth strategies can be overwhelming, but if done correctly, these initiatives deliver impactful benefits to both credit unions and the members they serve. Don’t be afraid to seek out the necessary resources, tools or partners, like Coopera Consulting, to help make the transition seamless and impactful for all involved. Credit union members come from many different backgrounds, cultures and languages, and a “one size” approach does not always include all. The opportunity to expand your products and services through the power of translation is one we hope you take advantage of.
Diversity Insight: Opportunities To Serve A Diverse Field Of Membership
How well do you know the multicultural spaces in your community?
Some of my favorite conversations have been with Uber drivers, many of whom are immigrants who share their stories of what it’s like to make a life in the U.S., given the cultural and linguistic hurdles they often face when they first arrive.
Last year, I struck up a conversation with a driver from Iraq, who came to this country over 15 years ago with his wife and two sons. He was a businessman back home, but when he settled in the Pacific Northwest, he needed work right away. The local food packaging plant was a place where many new immigrants and refugees were employed, where individuals from Afghanistan, Burma, Guatemala, Rwanda and other countries could immediately find work.
I asked my driver, “If you don’t mind me asking, what did you think about the banking system when you first arrived in the U.S.?” He proceeded to tell me the story of how he briefly had an account with a recognized national bank when he first arrived. But after receiving his first statement, he was shocked by the exorbitant fees he was being charged monthly, as well as the lack of quality service he felt he was getting from the staff.
After complaining about this situation at work one day, one of his co-workers, a refugee from Sudan, explained that joining a credit union was a better option. He directed his Iraqi colleague to a local credit union that didn’t charge as high of monthly fees and provided great customer service. My Uber driver then shared how he immediately took his Sudanese co-worker’s advice, and his entire family has been loyal credit union members ever since.
What Does It Mean to Have a Multicultural Strategy?
When it comes to serving a diverse field of membership, credit unions should know that it doesn’t necessarily mean creating strategies that target one particular culture at a time. A multicultural strategy doesn’t necessarily mean hiring a staff member who will connect you with a specific ethnic community. Sometimes, an effective multicultural strategy means just identifying the locations in your community that have a diverse group of consumers who can benefit from a credit union’s services.
My Uber driver, an Iraqi who dreamed about saving up for his kids’ college education, learned about credit unions through his Sudanese co-worker. In many communities across the country, there are neighborhoods, places of worship, school districts, factories and other places of employment in which multicultural populations share advice and recommendations with one another, despite their linguistic and cultural differences.
How well do you know the multicultural spaces in your field of membership? Do you know the factories, service industries, churches and mosques where immigrants from all walks of life gather and share recommendations with one another?
You can start by partnering with trusted community organizations that serve these demographics, or by reaching out to the human resource departments of employers that hire diverse workers. Coopera Consulting provides data analytics on areas that can identify the diverse demographics that reside within a given field of membership. These steps can lead to both multicultural member growth and improved financial well-being for all.
The Need to Not Just Create, but Also Communicate Your Credit Union’s DEI Strategy
As first seen on CUInsight.com on June 1, 2023. Authored by Jennifer Esperanza, Coopera Senior of Organization Culture and Strategy, and Jessica Maldonado, PolicyWorks Vice President of Public Affairs
Similar to a tree falling in a forest with no one around, is a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) strategy fully effective if it’s not communicated? What happens if a credit union has invested a considerable amount of labor, time, and other resources towards DEI, but is still accused of “not doing enough?”
While credit union leaders may be doing the right things to increase DEI initiatives, not communicating their efforts to both internal and external stakeholders leaves them vulnerable to criticism. Whether it is being accused of a lack of transparency or at worst, perceived as uninterested in issues of belonging, diversity, equity, and inclusion, organizations such as credit unions run the risk of possessing a DEI strategy that falls on deaf ears.
Ideally, a comprehensive communications plan is implemented from the very beginning, and articulates the credit union’s commitment to DEI, demonstrates leadership’s support around it, and regularly updates its stakeholders with a variety of data, policy changes, and stories of its progress. Frequent and consistent communication, to employees, leaders, to members, and the community at large, pave the way to building trust and demonstrating that the credit union is sincere in its DEI efforts.
Credit unions may not be prepared to respond to criticism from members or even employees without a transparent DEI communications plan. Challenges such as lack of employee diversity, poor retention, or disgruntled members can leave the credit union susceptible to bad publicity if there is not a communication strategy in place to complement the DEI strategy. This is where partnerships with external entities such as consultants and community organizations can help.
Credit unions need to communicate their DEI plan and tell their story. This is critically important for internal stakeholders like employees and board members, not just the public.
Credit unions live the “people helping people” philosophy every day, and telling that story through a DEI frame is important. The proactive communication of a credit union’s DEI strategy can be done through social media, newsletters, and even media outreach for unique initiatives. It is also crucial to have a crisis communication plan in place in case challenges arise that require a public-facing response.
A DEI communication strategy can bring numerous benefits for a credit union, including:
Internal employee retention: staying in constant contact with employees about DEI strategy and direction can help staff feel involved and seen.
External benefits: Public stakeholders (members, community leaders, media, etc.) see what the credit union is doing, which helps promote brand loyalty and attract/retain members.
Enhancing a “people helping people” culture: Members and staff alike will feel like they are living this value.
Bridge junior and senior staff around DEI initiatives: Junior-level staff at the credit union are often eager to make a difference, including a want to do more with DEI initiatives. Senior staff may feel overwhelmed and that things move too fast, so an internal communication strategy can help create a protocol for decisions and bridge the gap.
Transparency of your credit union’s DEI efforts is a critical component of the DEI strategy. Being intentional in your communication will help to ensure your credit union is genuinely moving the needle in its DEI efforts. It’s never too soon to get started, and we’re ready and able to help.
Boost Your Credit Union's Competitive Advantage by Engaging with Multicultural Audiences
According to the United States Census Bureau, the estimated year when the U.S. will become a minority-majority country is 2045. This means that, by 2045, there will be no racial or ethnic group that makes up a majority of the population. Instead, no single group will make up more than 50% of the total population, with non-Hispanic whites becoming one of several minority groups. However, it’s worth noting that the exact year may be subject to change, though it is now an irreversible trend.
There’s never been a better time for credit unions to start (or grow) multicultural communities’ engagement as a differentiation strategy. Lending deeper to these market segments is one key way to do just that. Financial institutions that don’t consider efforts to expand multicultural business strategies will find it increasingly difficult to grow their customer base, deposits and loan balances in years to come.
As you begin your 2024 strategic planning discussions, consider how your credit union could make serving the Hispanic market and other multicultural markets a differentiation strategy. Below are four ways to start.
1. Understand your current membership and market using segmentation and analytics.
The first step in reaching underserved segments in your community with dignified financial services is understanding who they are and what they need. Segment your existing membership and market to determine how many are Hispanic or Asians, for example, and identify their language preferences. Use this segmentation to set a baseline for your Hispanic or Asian membership growth strategy. Develop new segment-specific marketing and product strategies for each specific market segment and continue to measure progress by monitoring membership growth.
2. Determine the product gaps that exist and identify where you can deepen relationships.
After you understand your current multicultural membership and market, you will want to identify opportunities to improve the member experience, including your lending program.
For example, if you notice Hispanics are not obtaining mortgages at the same rate as non-Hispanics, look at ways to bridge the gaps and address the root causes. For example, consider helping boost loan acceptance rates by providing more first-time homebuyer education or encouraging more collaboration with culturally relevant providers across the homebuying experience. Also, consider how you might adapt personal loans to meet the needs of consumers, such as providing loans to help pay for immigration expenses or emergencies with family members living in Latin America.
3. Explore alternative credit scoring models.
Many credit products accessible to underserved consumers feature one-size-fits-all rates and fees, which means they aren’t priced according to risk. Just because a consumer is un-scoreable by most traditional credit scoring models doesn’t mean he or she won’t be able to pay back a loan or does not have a payment history. Several alternative models available today can help a lender better evaluate a consumer’s ability to repay. Alternative sources of consumer data, such as utility records, cell phone payments, medical payments, insurance payments, remittance receipts, direct deposit histories and more, can be used to build better risk models.
Armed with this information – and with the proper programs in place to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements and privacy laws – credit unions can continue making responsible lending decisions and grow their portfolio while better serving the underserved.
4. Revamp, rethink or start your current communication with multicultural audiences.
Engaging with multicultural audiences requires an approach that is culturally sensitive, respectful and inclusive. Here are some good practices to consider when developing a communication strategy for multicultural audiences:
Understand the cultural nuances: Before developing a communication strategy, it is essential to understand the cultural nuances of the target audience. This includes their values, beliefs, customs and traditions. This knowledge can help you tailor your messages and avoid any communication missteps.
Use inclusive language: Use language that is inclusive and avoids stereotypes or assumptions. For example, avoid using language that assumes everyone celebrates the same holidays or speaks the same language.
Use visuals and graphics: Visuals and graphics can help convey your message in a way that transcends language barriers. Use images that are culturally relevant and inclusive.
Use multiple channels: Use multiple channels to reach your target audience, including social media, email, text messaging and traditional media. This approach can help you reach a broader audience and tailor your messages to each channel.
Multicultural audiences represent a significant and growing consumer base. In the United States, multicultural audiences currently make up 40% of the population, and this number is expected to increase in the coming years. Brands that can effectively engage with these audiences have a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Engaging with multicultural audiences is not only good for business, but it is also the right thing to do. Brands that demonstrate a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion can build a positive reputation and improve their social impact. It is a matter of relevance.
Serving Multicultural Members by "Reading the Room"
Like many children of immigrants, my parents held down long hours at work and often juggled multiple income streams. This left me to be raised by my grandmother, an undocumented immigrant with no formal education. She could neither read nor write and did not speak English. For as long as I remember, I served as grandma’s translator for trips to the convenience store, to the bank, doctor’s appointments, and interactions with salespeople who asked to speak “to the adult in the household.”
Anyone who has ever served as a translator knows that it’s more than just translating words from one language to another. It’s also about translating cultural concepts that people in the mainstream may take for granted. Translators must often “read the room” and know their audience. This means being attuned to the subtle cultural cues that everyone will respond positively to, while adjusting communication style, reactions, and behaviors accordingly. In my case, I became attuned to evaluating whether an interaction required small talk before getting down to business, and making note of how prior interactions went, in order to be better prepared for next time.
For staff working behind the counters and tasked to serve diverse communities, what sorts of trainings do they get (if any) on how to read the room? While front-line staff members may get briefed on the essential behaviors of customer service, how often are they trained to adapt to the needs of those they’re assisting? As an adult, I still notice the burdens left on non-English speaking customers, those with disabilities, or people from low-income backgrounds, as they’re expected to accommodate to the norms of the situation— rather than finding themselves in a place where the staff have to accommodate to them, or at least meet them halfway.
The resistance to entertain someone else’s perspective and to center your own biases is what social scientists would call ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is the concept of evaluating another culture through our own standards and preconceptions based on the norms we’re most frequently exposed to in our own life experiences. To take an ethnocentric stance is to insist “my way is the right way.” It’s when we might judge apples for not being juicy enough, but that’s because we’ve been eating oranges for most of our life.
In its extreme form, ethnocentrism leads to discrimination and bars people from opportunities to improve their lives. Specifically in the case of our industry, ethnocentrism bars people from the opportunity to gain true financial empowerment. For example, we tend to have an ethnocentric view that large purchases should be done by credit card, and that cash (or even check purchases) are suspect. In my grandma’s case, paying for things in cash was preferred because she came from an economically unstable country where most financial transactions were done in cash (no matter how large or small). Moreover, writing checks was impossible for someone like her; she could barely write her own signature. But this presented many challenges when she arrived in the US; making a large cash withdrawal from the bank at any one time was seen with suspicion.
Last year, Ryan Coogler, director of the film “Black Panther” was detained after trying to withdraw a large amount of cash from an Atlanta bank. This request prompted the bank teller to alert the manager of a possible bank robbery taking place, when in fact, Mr. Coogler (who is African American) was using cash from his own account to pay a medical assistant employed by his family. He was soon released from detainment without any charges.
In the financial services industry, there are many stories of bias and discrimination experienced by members from historically-underbanked and underserved groups. Because of his celebrity profile, Mr. Coogler’s story made headlines. But how many more incidences like his happen on a daily basis? What are the seemingly innocent, unconscious ways that we perpetuate ethnocentrism at the credit union without realizing it? How does ethnocentrism compromise a credit union’s ability to become a trusted financial ally?
When it comes to improving customer service for diverse communities, start by critically analyzing internal practices and processes that we might have assumed are neutral. What are our assumptions around how transactions should be conducted, and how are historically underbanked groups challenging us to think differently? Below are a few ways to begin critically self-assessing your credit union’s practices, so that your credit union can begin “reading the room” and adjusting to the circumstances accordingly:
Do you have an awareness of the diverse demographics of your community, and some of their culturally-specific relationships to finances? Who are the trusted leaders of these communities that you can refer to if you’d like to learn more?
Does your credit union have enough signage with clearly laid-out information and infographics for members with social anxiety, dyslexia, or those who have yet to gain fluency in English?
What documents are most frequently used by your members who don’t speak English fluently? Are they translated and updated regularly?
Do photos in your marketing materials include diverse people (ethnicity, disability, genders, ages, body size) and diverse family structures (same sex couples, single parents, multi-generational households)?
Has your staff been trained to unlearn biases that may exist when members make deposits or withdrawals for large amounts of cash?
What options are available to provide services for members who work non-traditional hours? Do you have methods to reach out to members who are seasonal laborers and may not have the same address for more than a few months at a time?
Tackling everyday ethnocentrism begins with being reflective of our own practices and finding ways to include a wider range of perspectives and ways of doing things. Many organizations tend to be reactionary after incidents of unconscious bias have been reported— which by then, means it’s too late. We encourage a proactive approach towards being more reflective, learning what biases may exist in our organizations, and implementing organizational change that encourages staff, leaders, and board members to learn how to “read the room”—or more accurately, how to “read the community.”
The Ropes are Old - Ways We Can Learn From, Support, and Retain the Next Generation of Credit Union Young Professionals
Who is Generation-Z?
The next generation of credit union young professionals (YP’s) are here, ready to make waves and revolutionize the credit union industry. Born between the late 1990’s and early 2010’s, Generation- Z grew up during an incredibly transformative time; the digital world was taking off, the heavy short- and long-term financial impacts of 2008’s great recession were felt in many homes, and the shadows of global terrorism and war were continued topics of conversation. Generation-Z also serves to be the most racially and ethnically diverse generational group yet to be seen in history. According to Pew Research Center, one-in-four Gen Zers are Hispanic, 14% are black, 6% are Asian and 5% are two or more races. They have directly observed, experienced and discussed the effects of geopolitical disruption, environmental crises and economic turmoil at a very young age. As this generation became young adults, society began to recognize the level of impact these experiences held, and how they would play a pivotal role in shaping the values, insights and intrinsic drivers of Gen-Zers personal and professional life. Forbes has written that Gen-Z will supplement 27% of the workforce in OECD countries and make up one-third of the world’s population by 2025. As many joined the workforce in recent years, corporate ideals of Gen-Z young professionals began to emerge.
Insights. Ideas, and Skills of Gen-Z YP’s
Gen-Z greatly values mission-driven work. They want to make sure their time is spent making a true difference that is fulfilling the needs of the current moment whilst striving to create a sustainable future. Their strength lies within their ability to be vocal, stand up to injustices and take charge. A recent poll conducted by Deloitte and The Network of Executive Women (NEW) noted that 77 percent of Gen-Z respondents say it’s important when their organizations’ values align with their own. They are more inclined to support an organization whose mission is rooted in a definite roadmap, met with intentional goals, and will take the necessary steps in order to create sustainable change. Essentially, they expect corporations not only to talk the talk but walk the walk, and to be honest about their critiques and improvements along the way. Gen-Z finds DEI an expectation at their workplace, as it has been a part of their lived experience and education from younger years. They have witnessed and felt the impacts of stagnant political and social action and would rather be the key player in leading change to achieve diversity, equity and inclusion for all – using empathy as their instinctive tool.
Generation-Z, also quite recently known as Zoomers, largely joined the workforce at the start of a global pandemic. COVID-19 turned the workplace on its head, as many employees were left to dictate their workday within the confines of their homes. Many asked themselves, how does one pivot a work style that largely relies on in-person communication to mostly digital? Well – look no further than to your young professional digital natives. Gen-Z has never known life without the creation of the internet and digital media. Gen-Z was the first generation to interact with the many stages of technology as it developed right in front of their eyes – making them the most digitally savvy generation to date. They understand that reaching people through digital platforms isn’t the fallback, but an essential tool to interact with a global audience. This revealed the importance behind genuine digital storytelling – an idea seen to be relatively new, yet something this generation has been participating in their whole lives. Gen-Z’s are the cultivators, seekers and perpetuators of current and relevant digital trends. They curate digital campaigns that bring the globe to you, creating a space to authentically listen, learn and foster change, right at your fingertips. The emergence of YP’s in the workplace amongst a global pandemic unveiled not only how an industry can leverage Gen-Z YP’s on digital platforms, but also just how far creative thinking can take you.
According to a study done by Vision Critical, 80 percent of Gen-Z believe that finding themselves creatively is important. This should come as no surprise, based upon many influential events during their younger years, Gen-Z sought to think outside the confines of what society was offering to foster spaces for change. They are cultural creators, with an innovative toolbox that blends the physical and digital worlds into one. They observed previous generations sacrifice their work-life balance, values and sometimes passions for a corporate job. While the job landscape for many industries recently widened as remote work increased, YP’s capitalized on the recent widening of job landscapes to seek out positions that will uphold their values and passions without feeling compromised. They strive to incorporate their creative skills into spaces that make them feel energized, passionate and a part of the solution. This group takes chances and seizes the moment instead of waiting their turn, and they expect corporations to support and lead them in ways where they can creatively succeed.
How are we leading and learning from Gen-Z YP’s?
In order to speak to a new generation of young professionals, leadership styles need to morph in order to account for strengths, skillsets and passions they bring to an industry. We’ve acknowledged that Gen-Z folks are generally autonomous, digitally savvy and are creative thinkers. Leaders that not only permit, but endorse opportunities for YP-led projects and the personalization of their career journey allow for Gen-Zs to work on developing their skills in interdisciplinary ways. Gen-Zs are also the perfect spokespeople to address the generation that is currently lacking within the credit union space. A 2022 CU Times report shows that a mere 34 percent of Gen-Z interacts with a major national bank or credit union, and only 16 percent with a regional or community bank or credit union. Credit union leaders can leverage YP voices, many of which can relate to Gen-Z members’ financial journeys and showcase how credit unions are helping young people meet their financial goals. Look no further than to social media, where Gen-Zs can utilize their digital skillsets and drive Gen-Z traffic to credit union social media profiles. These young professionals are looking for more than empowerment and words of encouragement – they are asking organizations to dig deeper. Essentially, Gen-Z is looking for their leaders to become pushy for YP’s to become visible. Introduce them to spaces where one does not typically see a young person. Intentionally refer them to educational opportunities that speak to their creative and professional goals. Lead them to platforms where their voices are heard amongst c-suite and executive levels. This generation is not asking their leaders for a seat at the table, but a reconstruction of the table itself. In return, Gen-Zs are fueled with the educational and industry knowledge that will ignite retention and lay the foundation for future generations of credit union leaders.
There are four active generations in the workforce at the same time, something humans have never experienced before in contemporary history. We’ve learned about what Gen-Zs are seeking in their professional journey, but how do they interact with the three additional generations, and where does empathy play its role? Inter-generational empathy is curated through care, companionship, and connectedness for and to different generations. To build this form of empathy within the workplace, generations need to find the commonalities between one another, and see value in spaces that differ. Specifically, in regards to credit union space, it’s important for all generations to learn about their role in curating this global credit union system, which in return, breeds a sense of belonging. Belonging is a feeling where one feels secure and supported, where all members are working towards a common goal. When belonging is felt, empathy is bred. If this can occur though an inter-generational lens, retention and passions are at an all-time high. As members of the credit union industry, every represented generation is held accountable in making sure our belonging principal, “People Helping People”, means ALL people, regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and generation.
“The ropes are old!”
There is a common old saying said many times within the workplace – “you have to learn the ropes”, meaning, each young professional is required to listen, learn and progress in their career in similar fashions done before. After all we’ve discussed, Gen-Zs are ready to say, “The ropes are old!”. These ropes aren’t as sturdy nor dependable as they first were. They have not been updated in a while and are in desperate need of repair. The workplace shift is taking place, the Gen-Z young professional population is only increasing, and the credit union industry needs to pay attention. Generation-Z is eager to restore these ropes, adding string, tying off loose ends, and making sure they lead to deep inclusion and sustainable change.
"Talk Story" - The Power of Storytelling for Organizational Change
We love to tell stories, and this has always been a part of our history as humans. We’ve been sitting around campfires and telling stories for much longer than we’ve been putting pen to paper and writing them down. There is a desire to bring back this oral tradition: just look at open-mic nights at cafes or the proliferation of podcasts and radio shows such as The Moth, This American Life, or StoryCorps, which is funded by the Library of Congress. Even social media has made room for people to share their stories: Humans of New York, for example, has millions of followers across Instagram and Facebook and is a platform for everyday people to read about the life stories of ordinary people such as themselves.
When we tell stories, not only do we entertain one another, but we also share wisdom and provide guidance to our listeners on how to make sense of the world. Stories (both fictional and real) build empathy: learning about others’ experiences and relating their emotions with our own. In fact, a common phrase used in Hawaiian culture is to “talk story,” in which people are encouraged to slow down, take the time to share stories with one another in order to strengthen bonds within the community.
When I consult with credit unions across the country, I see a hunger within our own industry to “talk story.” Staff members are eager to show me the historical photos that adorn their walls and share the story of how the organization began as an SEG (select employee group). There are countless times when I’ve heard VPs tell their stories of how they began their career as a teller, but someone in leadership noticed their potential and encouraged them to acquire new skills. And most often, credit unions love to talk stories of the lives they’ve changed after helping members improve their financial well-being.
For the credit union industry, storytelling has the power to not only share wisdom and build empathy, but also to inspire organizational change. Whether it’s about adopting a new brand strategy, requiring more DEI learning and development opportunities for staff, or plans to merge with another credit union, there is power in speaking aloud the narrative as to what that change means for members, for your credit union staff, or for the community at large.
In their book Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard, authors Dan and Chip Heath write that one of the top mistakes leaders make when trying to enact organizational change is the over-reliance on the business case and on numeric data points. Of course, numbers are important, but the Heaths (who are both researchers on organizational behavior) found that employees are still more likely to support new processes and ideas if they experience an emotional response that opens them up to those changes. And this is often accomplished by hearing stories. It’s not enough to just present data to your organization and expect that it will speak for itself. When leaders tell a story to supplement or illustrate the data, staff have more empathy for the rationale behind change, and are more willing to support it.
Thinking outside the walls of the credit union’s internal communications, our industry is also presented the opportunity to make an impact on the communities we serve through collective narratives, or corporate narratives. As we craft and share our credit union story, we need to be sure to do so with careful consideration to remain consistent and authentic to accurately reflect our brand promises of today and the brand we strive to be in the future. How inclusive are these corporate narratives? Are they focusing on the commitment to meet and exceed the needs of people of diverse backgrounds?
Consider reinforcing your corporate narrative by capturing and sharing member testimonials showcasing ways your credit union is carrying out its brand promise at the member or community level. Highlighting first-hand experiences about the impact your credit union is making through everyday member interactions, access to life-changing financial services or community engagement strengthens your brand promise and creates an opportunity for a deeper emotional connection to existing or future members.
So the next time your organization revises its mission statement, takes on any type of shift in organizational culture or is ready to reinforce a brand commitment to the diverse communities you serve, set your credit union up for success by first asking this crucial question, “What’s our story?”
The New American Homebuyer - Who are they and how your credit union can help
As first seen on CUInsight.com on May 20, 2022. Authored by Coopera Business Operations Coordinator Alondra Vazquez.
Through the decades, it is no secret that the fastest and most reliable way to build wealth in the United States is through homeownership. However, this American dream of walking into an open house and saying “Yes, we’ll take it” has now turned into a Hail Mary pass in the last quarter, seeking any opportunity to score. In 2015, we saw a new market player, Latinos, hit an all-time high by accounting for 68 percent of new homeowners that year, according to the National Association of Realtors. This helped sustain the upward trend of overall Latino homeownership rate that increased to 48.4 percent in 2021 from 47.1 percent in 2019 (US Census Bureau). Many Latinos, like me, felt a sense of hope – this American dream is reachable after all.
Unfortunately, like the old saying goes, “The only thing that remains constant is change.” By 2021, the housing market had significantly changed. My latest read, the NAHREP 2021 State of Hispanic Ownership report, an extensive report of Latino homebuyer trends utilizing US Census, HMDA, Freddie Mac, and realtor data among others, shed light on the new challenges first-time Latino homebuyers face. In 2021, the rate of new Latino homeowners had declined to 18.1 percent compared to 54.4 percent of their non-Hispanic white counterparts, a 30-point decrease from 2015. Many of the barriers first-time Latino homeowners faced attributed to the increase in home appreciation and affordability challenges. Many Latino-dense markets experienced homes appreciating up to 31 percent year-over-year, which include states like Arizona and Florida. While the minimum salary necessary to afford the median-priced home nationally is $69,000, the median Latino household income is only $55,000.
Where is the silver-lining to these challenges? According to a 2021 study by Freddie Mac, 49 percent of Latino adults aged 45 and under were “Near mortgage ready” or “Mortgage ready”. A list produced in conjunction with Freddie Mac ranked all metros by the number of mortgage ready Latinos and compared the percentage of those who can afford the median priced home to the amount of housing stock available. In addition, not only are Latinos ready for homeownership, but they are in prime age with nearly two in three Latinos being 40 years or younger (U.S Census). How are credit unions equipping first-time Latino homebuyers? Well, we have some ground to cover. According to HMDA 2020 data, credit unions account for only five percent of mortgage loan originations to Latinos.
In my previous role at a Colorado-based credit union, we uncovered that although some Latino consumers qualify for a mortgage loan, there are other components to the homeownership process that they may not be aware of. With the assistance of a bilingual mortgage loan originator, we facilitated Spanish first-time homebuyers’ seminars. To accommodate our Latino community who often worked during typical credit union branch hours, we held informational seminars the first Saturday of each month. We catered breakfast, and in some instances had gift-card drawings. We educated our members and non-members on the basics of purchasing a home, down-payment and mortgage loan options, benefits of working with a real estate agent and what to expect at closing. This resulted in mortgage and credit card referrals, along with the increase in brand awareness and trust within the Spanish-speaking community.
Credit unions have a tremendous opportunity to attract and educate these home-ready consumers. Here are three recommendations credit unions can implement to be the preferred lender for the New American Homebuyer:
FINANCIAL EDUCATION IS KEY. BONUS POINTS IF IT’S IN SPANISH – For many first and second generation Latinos, like myself, we are learning and navigating the financial services sector all on our own. Offering seminars on building credit and being a first-time homebuyer can offer a safe space to ask questions while learning from trusted market experts. The benefits can be an increase of new memberships, loan applications and word-of-mouth referrals.
HIRING, RETAINING AND DEVELOPING BILINGUAL STAFF – Ensuring first-time homebuyers understand the process from start to finish is vital to a successful home purchase and it is imperative this is communicated in their preferred language. How are you attracting diverse and bilingual talent experienced in mortgages? Are you prioritizing Spanish-language as a preferred or required skill? Developing internal employees and creating career paths into mortgage roles can be an alternative route. Tapping into your own bilingual staff, you may uncover they have been translating for the mortgage officer already.
PARTNERING WITH BILINGUAL AND/OR BICULTURAL REAL ESTATE AGENTS – NAHREP, which stands for National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, can be a great way to partner with bilingual and/or bicultural real estate agents. To ensure your members know the role real estate agents play in finding their forever home, encourage your members to work with a real estate agent. In this hot market, you need an expert to find what you are looking for, negotiate prices, and navigate the competition in a stressless way all while communicating in their preferred language and connecting on a personal level.
Removing barriers and getting better acquainted with the new American Homebuyer as they navigate the challenging home-buying process will reinforce your credit union’s promise to serve. By creating a quality experience throughout this important life milestone, it may just land your credit union its newest loyal member.
Building Your Language Strategy Webinar
All credit union members and those seeking financial services deserve the ability to communicate with their financial institutions. Easy, right? In reality, many members or prospective members who don't speak English as a first language (or at all) can encounter barriers when trying to access the most basic financial services.
In this webinar, Founder of Language Ventures, Luiz A. Valdez-Jimenez, Esq., MBA has joined Coopera CEO Víctor Miguel Corro to discuss how credit unions can serve linguistically diverse members, and why credit unions should view language as a competitive advantage in serving increasingly diverse communities.
Multicultural USA - An Emerging Marketing Focus
As first seen on CUInsight.com. Authored by Coopera CEO Víctor Miguel Corro.
Multicultural marketing or ethnic marketing involves creating brand awareness to one or more audiences of a given ethnicity—usually an ethnicity outside of a country’s majority culture. Life experiences and background influence how they engage with content, consume products, and buy services. For this reason, brands must consider traditions, languages, customs, beliefs, and experiences when crafting messages. Multicultural marketing focuses on understanding these influences so that outreach and engagement result in an authentic and culturally appropriate mix.
The United States of America, due to its massive size and mixed ethnic heritage, has one of the most complex cultural identities in the world. Millions of immigrants from all over the globe have settled in America, which expands over a vast land mass. The mingling of cultural backgrounds and ethnicities led to a nuanced and complex sense of individual identity. More than 40% of America’s population is identified as multicultural, which basically means non-Hispanic White. This is a fact that credit unions must recognize and understand deeply so that they are relevant to the increasingly diverse population in the country.
Before credit unions begin to build strategy or marketing programs to enhance service to multicultural markets, their first step should be self-reflection. Credit unions may start by assessing the number of multicultural members they have and compare it to their defined field of membership (FOM). Knowing how many African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, Latinos, and other populations they have is essential to craft an outreach strategy to multicultural members. For existing membership, it’s also important to know language preference, the engagement with loans and savings products as well as account balances. Measuring multicultural membership also informs whether the credit union reflects the ethnicities in their FOM and in terms of ethnicity of board, management, and staff.
Knowing these data points and having a strategy to truly address the needs of distinct consumer segments will send a message that your credit union “gets it.” African American consumers may be delighted to learn that their credit union is actively looking to build a branch in a financial dessert, the young Latino immigrant might be interested in the new Spanish-language app while the Asian Americans could want to know of the investment services.
Leveraging this knowledge and having the credit union maxim of financial inclusion and financial well-being for all present is the essence to an inclusive approach to a multicultural membership base.
From DEI Statements to Impactful Change - Notes From the Field
As first seen on CUInsight.com. Authored by Coopera Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Jennifer Santos Esperanza.
“What people say, what people do, and what they say they do are entirely different things.” – Margaret Mead
In the quote above, anthropologist Margaret Mead succinctly articulated what she observed across a variety of cultures. While her research took place close to a century ago, her observations still ring true: whether in a small community in the South Pacific, a collective group of workers in Indonesia, or a corporate boardroom in North America, we don’t realize that there is often a disconnect between what we say we do, versus what we put into practice.
Organizations, including credit unions, are often guided by a mission statement to provide a guiding star to direct their efforts toward a common set of goals. The mission statement serves as a form of collective accountability, articulated with a brief but inspiring message. This is especially true as credit unions strive to be more intentional about increasing their multicultural staff and membership base.
A strong mission statement can ideally provide credit unions structured guidance for implementing new marketing strategies, establishing ERGs, and developing new products and services that speak to the tenets of diversity, equity, and inclusion. While this is a good start, is there a way for credit unions to ensure that what they are saying and what they are doing are closely aligned?
Holistic and Data-Driven Approaches
A holistic, integrated diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy can play a key role in ensuring credit unions practice what they preach. As DEI consultants and dedicated staff members work to ensure consistency in messaging, it is important to ensure that they are also doing the following:
Implementing regular trainings and learning opportunities for the credit union to understand both the business and moral cases for DEI
Ensuring that operations and support staff are culturally diverse, and where relevant, are bilingual
Implementing a data-informed approach that monitors key indicators across the years, and across various units/departments. Data can include (but is not limited to):
Employee engagement surveys
Staff recruitment and retention statistics
Membership analysis of the diversity within the field of membership
Equity audits of both internal and external operations
Cultural/linguistic analysis of promotional materials to ensure cultural relevancy
Cultural/spatial analysis of credit union spaces to ensure physical accessibility
Cultivating partnerships and activities with community stakeholders
Creating pipelines for diverse talent to develop their professional skills for retention and advancement to leadership roles
Culture Change and Adaptation
A holistic, data-driven DEI plan is even more crucial as we begin to witness a wave of credit union mergers over the next few decades. Because mergers are especially integral for the survival of smaller credit unions, the need for a sustained and holistic DEI strategy is even more crucial. Credit unions take great pride in the internal cultures they’ve built throughout the years—but what are their plans for merging two organizational cultures? Have newly combined credit unions conducted assessments on the changes to the demographics of their membership base? How might members’ financial needs be different? Ideally, DEI consultants have enough of an outsider’s unbiased perspective, similar to an anthropologist’s, to tackle these questions.
According to a recent study from Filene Research Institute, DEI implementation is most effective and results in higher ROI when strategies are implemented as part of a “bundle:” sets of complementary practices that operationalizes a credit union’s commitment to DEI. More specifically, credit unions are most successful when they go beyond sharing their mission statement, and actually work to achieve their mission: tracking data over time, setting goals for internal and external best practices, and implementing strategies that align message with practice.
National Credit Union Foundation Announces $100K Grant to Support Credit Union Diversity and Financial Health
MADISON, WI (October 7, 2021) - The National Credit Union Foundation (the Foundation) has announced a $100,000 grant to help smaller credit unions analyze membership demographics and better understand the roles culture, race and ethnicity play in financial well-being.
The grant will be split among multiple credit union recipients, giving them access to industry-leading programs, data analysis and consultation provided by Attune and Coopera, two organizations leading the charge for multicultural inclusion and financial health.
“The persistent financial inequities faced by people of color have been laid bare over the last few years,” said Gigi Hyland, executive director of the National Credit Union Foundation. “Credit unions were founded to support those most in need but to do so effectively, they need to understand who their members are. This grant will open up that opportunity for credit unions that could otherwise be unable to allocate the human and financial resources.”
Successful applicants will have the opportunity to use two of Coopera’s inclusion tools: the Ethnicity Segmentation Analysis to track membership demographics, and the Hispanic Opportunity Navigator, which assesses a credit union’s readiness to serve Latinx communities and provides a roadmap to success. In addition, grant recipients can partner with Attune to measure employee and member financial health and receive data-driven insights to steer strategic planning and product development.
Coopera CEO Victor Corro added, “An effective deep inclusion strategy needs to be based on data analytics to truly include the most vulnerable and financially excluded consumers. Coopera is honored to support those credit unions looking to go beyond the dialogue and get to the action in diversity, equity and inclusion through data.”
John Thompson, co-founder and president of Attune, said, “In order to address the problems of financial well-being, credit unions need to first understand where members and staff are at in their individual financial well-being journey. We're excited to bring the power of the Attune measurement platform to bear, enabling more credit unions to improve financial well-being for all.”
Credit unions composed of 10 or more employees with assets between $100 million and $600 million are eligible to apply for the grant.
Full grant and application information is available here. Applications must be sent to Traci O’Neill by close of business, Friday November 5, 2021.
Partnerships, Alliances and Collaborations are Essential to Inclusion
As first seen on CUInsight.com. Authored by Coopera CEO Víctor Miguel Corro.
My 20+ years in credit unions has taught me that to build something you need the help of others. It may seem obvious, but sometimes collaboration does not come spontaneously – even if our financial cooperative space is defined by the strength of coming together to build, improve, grow, include, and belong.
Providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized is best done by asking others to join in. In credit union land, we call this cooperation. And the disposition to build great things via collaboration is, in addition to one of our principles, needed.
Advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work is best approached through collaboration. This requires the lived experiences, perspectives, viewpoints and opinions of people who normally wouldn’t mingle organically. If done deliberately, collaborations result in increased credit union inclusion and a culture that appeals to broader emerging consumer segments.
Collaboration with Members
It is important to establish a genuine feedback mechanism with historically excluded communities. Everyone needs financial services, and understanding the barriers and the way in which our organizations can unintentionally exclude is essential to add interventions for change. How can we ensure that saying “all are welcome here” is true? Start by asking your members about their journey, experience, and overall relationship with you. Tellers, loan officers and contact center staff have a courtside seat to direct, candid member feedback – especially for members who come from communities of color.
Collaboration with Community-Based Organizations
To reach excluded communities, we need to be deliberate and patient to gain trust. Credit unions need to invest time and resources to create awareness and, ultimately trust. This is best accomplished by surveying and approaching nonprofit and other community-based organizations. These organizations may work with recent immigrants, non-English speakers, those experiencing homelessness or unemployment and other marginalized communities. Credit unions can add value to these trusted organizations by sharing financial well-being resources. A community that experiences the collaboration will invariably end up trusting the credit union.
Collaboration Within the Credit Union System (Industry, Movement, Family, Space)
Forming the CU DEI Collective is taking some time, but it has been a rewarding exercise. We have found strength in coming together to build a more inclusive credit union system. Supporter organizations have realized that they cannot go it alone when it comes to inclusion, belonging and DEI. DEI is good business, and investing in it results in more people finding a place where belonging means financial well-being. As a highly inclusive organization, the credit union movement needs to be more than just a sum of its parts. Obviously, it’s great to count on individuals working on their own initiatives, but to really make amazing things happen and to exceed the norms of what is expected, collaboration needs to be nurtured and allowed to blossom.
Coopera Consulting Enhancing DEI Efforts for Credit Unions
As first seen on CUBroadcast.com.
"Coopera Consulting CEO Victor Corro and Coopera Consulting Director of DEI Jennifer Esperanza (who has a Ph.D in Anthropology) joined us on the show to share latest activities at Coopera -- especially in the DEI area, where they are enhancing their efforts to help credit unions nationwide." - CU Broadcast
Illinois Credit Union League and Coopera Partner on Focus Group Study
The Illinois Credit Union League and Coopera partnership to advance financial inclusion will enter a new phase in 2022. The organizations will work together on identifying and bridging gaps, enabling Illinois Credit Unions to offer financial products and services to benefit underrepresented consumers across the state. In 2019, the partnership produced a demographic research study focused on the growing diversity of Illinois, helping Illinois credit unions identify areas of opportunity to advance financial inclusion.
State Credit Union Leagues and Associations are uniquely positioned to lead change and advocate for deep financial inclusion for all. “The focus group study builds on the valuable research we’ve already gathered, delving deeper for even greater insights that will support the financial inclusion efforts of Illinois credit unions,” says Tom Kane, President/CEO of the Illinois Credit Union League. “This partnership with Coopera shows our credit unions where they can make a difference, how they can better serve their members and help them meet requirements of the new Illinois Community Reinvestment Act (CRA).”
Beginning in Q2 of 2022, Coopera will host three focus groups of Illinois residents across the state. Illinois credit unions will select among their potential and existing members. Participants will discuss their engagement, awareness and financial pain points. The research will be used to assist Illinois credit unions to find outreach gaps from a cultural perspective. Data collected could be used to collaborate on new culturally appropriate products and services, as well as find innovative ways to serve existing and new members.
“Hearing directly from the community is fundamental in driving financial inclusion work,” says Coopera CEO Víctor Miguel Corro. “We’re excited to get started on this meaningful project and to help Illinois credit unions outline their plans for more inclusive service to their members and underrepresented communities.”
The focus group project is anticipated to be completed by year end.
Put DEI & Compliance Heads Together to Advance Financial Inclusion
As first seen on CUTimes.com.
While financial inclusion has been an organizational imperative for credit unions since the industry’s inception, more strategic attempts at bringing diverse members into the banking mainstream are taking root across the movement. Many market realities are driving a renewed sense of purpose around this imperative, not the least of which are the ongoing economic pains of COVID-19.
It’s not uncommon for financial inclusion programs to get stalled by the perception of too much risk and compliance barriers. It’s human nature to protect from the unknown. Culturally in the U.S., people are cautioned against talking about tough topics, like income, politics and religion, which can also be a hinderance to advancing financial inclusion strategies. After all, if we cannot even talk about it, how can we get deeply into it?
These are among the reasons strong collaboration between those leading the financial inclusion charge and those monitoring compliance is crucial to the success of any endeavor that seeks to do things differently.
Rethinking Conventional Wisdom
Perhaps no two leaders within an organization have quite as divergent points of view as the chief compliance officer and the chief DEI officer. Or at least that’s how the story goes. We tend to think of compliance leaders as gatekeepers and risk avoiders – sentries that stand at the proverbial door of the credit union protecting it from harm. At the same time, we often consider DEI champions as welcomers who think in terms of possibilities and potential, not threats or exposure. In reality, however, these two kinds of leaders are just like everyone else. They have nuances that come from personal experience, studied expertise and individual passions. Bringing the two forces together is how a credit union can transform its financial inclusion strategy from aspiration to reality.
When you think about it, both the DEI officer and the compliance officer have a common desire to make the credit union sustainable into the future so that it can fulfill its mission of providing access to financial services to its community. This translates directly to inclusion. With a thriving credit union, consumers will have greater financial services and a stronger financial well-being. That translates into a stronger community.
Doing so may not be easy. After all, people wearing compliance and inclusion hats are each coming at their jobs from unique points of view. But isn’t bringing different perspectives together at the core of all DEI strategies, including financial inclusion?
If you’re looking for ways to inspire stronger collaboration between risk and compliance and DEI teams, here are a few things to try.
Key Ways to Cultivate DEI and Compliance Synergy
Start at onboarding. Many organizations across sectors are hiring chief DEI officers and other similar leaders, and credit unions are among them. Compliance folks don’t always make the short list of leaders who newbies meet during the first week. Consider shaking things up for your new DEI leader. Setting a vision-sharing meeting with risk and compliance early on can be an effective way to kickstart long-term collaboration.
Include risk and compliance in innovation. In addition to being overlooked during new-employee orientation, risk and compliance leaders are often left out of product and service innovation talks until colleagues need their final sign off. If the new product or service was designed without controls, that can put the compliance leader in the unenviable position of traffic cop. Financial inclusion champions are hired to do things differently – to innovate outdated processes and try new things. Allowing to design these new experiences in lockstep with risk and compliance gives them a much better chance of launching on schedule.
Let DEI champs see weaknesses. Arguably more than anyone else at the credit union, compliance leaders know where the gaps are – from employee adherence to procedures to risk exposure in lending. Helping DEI leaders see them as well not only avoids exasperation of an existing problem, it builds trust between compliance and DEI teams. No one likes surprises, especially if that surprise derails progress in an area as important as financial inclusion.
Become allies for change. Nothing cultivates camaraderie faster than tackling (and solving) a tough problem. It’s not improbable to anticipate a DEI officer with a big vision for financial inclusion coming up against an unnecessarily narrow policy or procedure that threatens to halt progress. Because they carry authority and trust with the board and other decision makers, risk and compliance leaders can be an effective advocate for their DEI colleagues’ request for change. Similarly, a DEI officer can help a compliance leader push for evolution of outdated policies by helping establish a doing-well-by-doing-good business case for change.
Learn together. The credit union movement, like many other sectors, has a lot of opportunity to improve in terms of diversity – in staffing, board representation, membership and product/service delivery. Connecting non-traditional and underserved communities to the mainstream financial system is a big undertaking and one that will require continuous evaluation and improvement. Committing to helping each other learn along the way and encouraging each person or team through missteps is a great way to ensure progress over perfection.
Financial inclusion, as well as other aspects of DEI, is a journey, not a check list. It requires ongoing attention and collaboration.
While not every credit union has a chief DEI or chief compliance officer on staff, chances are someone has been assigned (or taken ownership of) these distinctive areas for the cooperative. Finding creative ways to inspire collaboration between them will not only grease the wheels of a financial inclusion program, it will also show your community its credit union is walking the walk of DEI.
Why Credit Unions Should Consider DEI Programs and Multicultural Markets
As first seen on CUInsight.com.
U.S. census projections estimate that racial minorities will be in the majority by the year 2045. By that time, Whites will comprise 49.7% of the total population, while Hispanics/Latinos, Asians, Black/African-Americans, Native American and multi-racial individuals will make up the remaining number– essentially becoming what has been referred to as the new “minority majority.”
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs have proliferated across the country over the last decade, largely in response to this demographic shift. Industries including finance, education, healthcare, and policy have turned to DEI specialists to identify and implement strategies on how to attract new members from multicultural markets. Such programs, if comprehensive, can also help credit unions diversify and train their staff to meet the needs of its members with empathy and cultural sensitivity.
Yet in many ways, implementing a DEI approach is long overdue: certain minority populations have struggled over decades with financial service providers to be included in opportunities for entrepreneurship and intergenerational wealth. Cultural biases and linguistic barriers are a few examples of how certain demographic groups have not been able to achieve their fullest potential. In other words, a DEI approach can help credit unions uncover the financial success stories within their communities that might be hidden in plain sight. It can also help the credit union keep its purpose to constantly look for ways to be inclusive and provide access to financial services.
With the right mix of intention, strategy and commitment, credit unions can effectively demonstrate their cultural relevance with segments of various multicultural markets they most want to reach. Becoming both personally and culturally relevant to these growing and influential groups begins with a deep knowledge of the people who comprise them. Credit unions must understand who their prospective members are and who they aspire to be; what they value, appreciate and desire; and how they prefer to interact with the brands in their lives. Without this knowledge, it is extremely difficult to demonstrate respect, interest, or willingness to go beyond the usual to meet your prospect’s needs.
Let’s explore the two fastest growing communities in the country, the Hispanic and Asian segments.
The Hispanic Market and DEI
Reaching U.S. Hispanics by simply translating forms, disclosures and websites into Spanish is not nearly enough to connect with them. It is important to know that this audience is often bilingual and acculturated in various degrees to the U.S. Yet, the vast majority of Hispanics are U.S. citizens. About 79% of Latinos living in the country are U.S. citizens, up from 74% in 2010. This includes people born in the U.S. and its territories (including Puerto Rico), people born abroad to American parents and immigrants who have become naturalized citizens. This U.S.-born Hispanic market is very much a distinct market from the foreign-born immigrant Hispanics. This important distinction is fundamental to knowing how to connect with this diverse community. Knowing your audience through analytics should inform strategies and tactics to appeal to immigrant and U.S.-born Hispanics.
The Asian Market and DEI
Similar to the Hispanic market, outreach to potential members of Asian descent requires an understanding of the diversity of this racial category and their various experiences in the United States. Around 23 million people in the U.S. identify as Asian, whose heritages can be traced to 20 different countries, and whose circumstances of settlement in the U.S. are even more varied. There are Asian-Americans whose ancestors settled in the U.S. four or more generations ago. Some may have come as university students and remained in the U.S. to embark on a new life. Other groups, such as Cambodian, Vietnamese, or Hmong arrived as refugees—fleeing their war-torn countries because their lives were in danger. Some groups, such as Filipinos, may have arrived as contract teachers or nurses, when the U.S. labor force found itself in short supply of these skilled workers beginning in the 1970s.
According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, by the year 2055, Asians are projected to become the largest immigrant group—surpassing Hispanics. By that time, Asians are expected to make up 36% of all U.S. immigrants, while Hispanics will make up 34%. How have credit unions equipped themselves to serve Asians, and do they feel confident in being able to provide the products and services that can help them achieve their financial goals?
Knowing Credit Union History
While it may seem daunting, a DEI approach to multicultural markets need not begin from scratch. Because credit unions have had a long history of championing the financial aspirations of underbanked/underserved populations, adding DEI strategies to a credit union’s existing practices are essentially a continuation of the credit union legacy.
What must come into play, however, is a thoughtful approach to DEI work; one that ensures that its implementation is holistic and sustainable. As leadership consultant and DEI researcher Aiko Bethea often speaks about, DEI work is transformational, not transactional work. If done correctly, it requires organizational culture change that can be the catalyst for credit unions to flourish in ways that they may not have anticipated.
Leadership is especially integral in the process—communicating to all stakeholders within the organization that DEI work means getting to know the constituencies they serve and finding pathways for employment so that credit union staff can better reflect the community’s demographics. Leadership teams should rely upon specialists who are adept at interpreting analytics and who are well-versed in histories and theories of multiculturalism.
Credit unions have a mission to include financially. This is a clear definition of having a higher purpose: serving as community development change-agents by leveraging the voices and lived experiences of many.
How to Connect with Hispanic Consumers in 2021
Credit unions used to depend on social events to connect with their Hispanic community – events such as Hispanic Heritage Month festivals, financial education seminars, etc. In the era of social distancing, credit unions have been challenged to find new ways to connect with their members through digital platforms. Here are three recommendations for ways to engage with the Hispanic market in 2021:
Get comfortable in front of the camera.
Today, one of the most engaging ways to promote a product or service is through short videos like TikToks and Reels. According to Clarita’s 2020 Hispanic Market Report, 23.4% of the U.S. millennial population is Hispanic. By 2025, 27% of the U.S. Gen Z population will be Hispanic. These two segments are in their prime borrowing years. Therefore, credit unions must go to where potential new members are consuming the most information, so consider joining TikTok or Instagram.
While the millennial and Gen Z populations may not be your target market at this moment, it would be beneficial to include them in your marketing strategy. These are two populations that need financial services. Gen Z for example, might not be attending your financial seminars on Zoom, but you could catch their attention with a minute-long video on one of their favorite social platforms.
Make online banking enrollment accessible.
One of the most common questions Coopera received from credit unions embarking on a Hispanic growth strategy is, “How tech savvy is this community?”. There is a misconception that Hispanics don’t use technology at similar rates as compared to other demographics. Contrary to belief, most technology reports suggest otherwise. Claritas found that Hispanic consumers are more likely to carry out day-to-day banking transactions online. This is not surprising to me, as I have witness members of my own family utilizing their smartphones to stay connected with our family in El Salvador and to make everyday purchases.
When Hispanic members have low online banking and mobile app penetrations, I attribute the lack of engagement to communication issues in regard to the availability of those digital options. Spanish-speaking members may not be aware that they can enroll in online banking, or that their credit union has a mobile app for members. Consider these questions:
Do you have an online banking enrollment guide?
Is this guide available in Spanish?
Do you have a Spanish microsite available to members?
How have you promoted your Spanish content online?
Do you post in Spanish on social media?
What would be the investment to translate your online and mobile to Spanish?
Check out Valley Strong Credit Union, who took it a step further by creating a Spanish Facebook page to ensure their information was accessible to a Spanish speaking audience.
Prepare for potential members’ due diligence.
It is important that your online messages align with how you want to be known among the Hispanic community. Whiles Hispanics are loyal to brands, it takes some time to earn their trust. For a long time, Hispanics have relied on word of mouth to learn about resources in their community. Without social gatherings, it is important that you spread positive messages about the credit union online. Encourage members to leave a review online about their experience with the credit union, especially reviews in Spanish. This would present the diversity of your membership and their satisfaction with the credit union.
Don’t let COVID-19 hold your credit union back from engaging with Hispanic consumers. Use this time as an opportunity to enhance your digital channels to welcome new users. Online outreach and engagement can drive membership growth and product penetration if done from an inclusion mindset.
Compliance Holds Your Passport to Greater Financial Inclusion
By helping reevaluate the rules, the regulatory experts at your CU can open entirely new pathways for entirely new members.
COVID-19 made life extraordinarily difficult for a lot of people in ways they never anticipated. Adults that had never experienced a job loss, an inability to pay their bills, even homelessness or food insecurity, found themselves navigating unfamiliar financial territory. Many are still very much in the throes of their struggles and searching for support and resources.
Credit unions were built to offer hope in exactly these circumstances—to give their neighbors, all of whom were traditionally excluded from banking services, a safe, trustworthy way to access financial resources—especially during times of economic downturn.
That said, credit unions must also keep themselves out of financial trouble. Doing so requires them to adhere to a set of rules and regulations. It’s a rigorous, complex process made possible by the establishment of policies and procedures that leaders can train staff to follow. The trouble with many of these policies and procedures is they are built to address the mainstream, the traditional, the usual.
But, if we learned anything in 2020, it’s how quickly the usual can change.
Reevaluating the Rules
As the industry confronts a new normal in which members’ needs—and members themselves—begin to look different, compliance and risk leaders have a sizable opportunity to contribute. That’s because they are the chief owners of policies and procedures, not to mention the resident experts on all things regulatory in nature. By helping colleagues reevaluate the rules they’ve been following, compliance and risk leaders can open up entirely new pathways for entirely new members.
This is particularly true for consumers struggling with pandemic-related impacts that have pushed them out of mainstream financial services.
Expanding What’s Permissible One Policy at a Time
Take an individual who is experiencing homelessness, for example. Especially as economic forecasters warn of a foreclosures wave due to the pandemic’s impact on jobs, this is a circumstance that credit unions must be prepared for. Account opening procedures mandate that a credit union collect a physical address, which could be difficult for a prospective member experiencing homelessness to provide. Compliance and risk pros can review existing polices to be sure they encompass the full scope of permissible physical addresses. For instance, Title 31 Chapter X concerning customer identification programs states that an address must be collected. However, the regulation also allows for individuals without an address to provide one belonging to next of kin or of another contact individual.
Acceptable ability-to-pay documentation is yet another area compliance and risk leaders can help credit unions adapt for a broader range of assistance to a broader group of people. Methods and technology for evaluating creditworthiness are evolving, and plenty of alternative providers are taking advantage of them to prey on desperate people turned away by banks. With guidance and support from compliance and risk colleagues, credit union lenders and their teams can use the same strategy, except for good.
Members who are not U.S. citizens are another group of people in great need of financial assistance and guidance as the nation moves toward COVID-19 recovery. Many were left out of the stimulus package relief because of the lack of a Social Security number. Higher degrees of poverty and a higher level of employment in jobs that can’t be done remotely has put immigrants and their families at higher financial (and health) risk during the pandemic.
Compliance and risk pros can reevaluate policies and procedures to ensure identification forms other than a Social Security number are not only allowed but welcomed. A major part of executing an inclusive approach is going beyond acceptance to enthusiasm. If credit union staff are familiar with and comfortable checking international passports, ITINs or Matrícula Consular ID cards, for example, they are much more likely to nurture a welcoming atmosphere for people who want to join the cooperative.
Reengineering Escalation for a Better New Member Experience
Speaking of a welcoming atmosphere, compliance and risk leaders can have an impact in this area by helping design an escalation process that feels smooth and hospitable. When frontline staff understand what to do and to whom to go when they are presented with an unfamiliar form of identification, the prospective member feels accommodated and accepted. Particularly in underserved, close-knit communities, that kind of experience can kick off a highly successful word-of-mouth campaign that brings many new members to the credit union’s doorstep.
Involving Compliance and Risk Early On
Change is hard for many people, and it can be even harder when hindered by fear of running afoul of the law. This is where experts in regulatory compliance can step in. For those leaders to have the greatest impact, however, they should be involved in strategic discussions around growth and evolution as early as possible. It’s not uncommon for a credit union to build a financial inclusion plan without the upfront input of their compliance and risk folks. This, unfortunately, perpetuates a misguided stereotype compliance pros continuously battle—that they lead the “No” department. Getting these folks involved from the outset ensures financial inclusion programs are in alignment with the credit union’s regulatory obligations and strategic compliance aspirations.
Keep in mind, too, that compliance and risk leaders can serve as influential champions of inclusion. Because they touch so many areas of a credit union’s operations, they typically have a large internal network. Allowing them to be a part of developing a financial inclusion strategy and associated program may mean more team members see the value of the initiative and get involved to an even greater degree than expected.