Alabama CU Works To Make Hispanics Part Of The Family

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The more than 80,000 Hispanic people living in northern Alabama are the targets of a new campaign to introduce them to and make them members of Family Security Credit Union.

Six months after launch, membership at the $200-million credit union is steadily growing by about 500 a month.

"And this campaign is really just getting started,'' said Don L. Casselman, EVP of Financial Marketing Group, a subsidiary of the Alabama Credit Union League. Casselman was hired by FSCU's CEO Tom Light to help research, develop, produce and serve the underserved population of Hispanics within its new community charter.

"Community charters are going to change the landscape of how credit unions market themselves,'' he said. "While credit unions have done a great job at SEG marketing and serving the underserved, community charters give them new, expanding horizons.''

Along that horizon, he said, are many multicultural groups, each with their own unique traditions, levels of trusts and financial needs.

"It's my job to help credit unions understand neighborhood marketing, training issues and campaign possibilities,'' Casselman said. "We're not just teaching our people to say 'buenos dias.' "

He said the team spent the better part of last spring, summer and fall doing research to pinpoint its audience, locate key community leaders and learn about their financial needs so it could create a welcoming in-house environment to serve them.

"Our key strategy was not to dwell on teaching our credit union employees about the Hispanic culture, rather to teach people in the Hispanic community about the credit union culture.''

To help with the education, First Security hired a Hispanic teacher with strong ties to the communities being targeted. For several months, she shadowed employees in every CU department, than went out into the neighborhoods to speak to church groups, business leaders and the media about the credit union and its intentions.

Meanwhile, several bilingual staff were added and the entire staff receiving training to address the cultural differences-including a strong family bond and a strong mistrust of financial institutions, in general-of their incoming members.

"We see some come in and open an account, deposit $100 and come back the next day to draw it out just to see if they really could,'' Casselman said. "They have been taken advantage of so much and just want to make sure this is for real.''

Casselman said among the challenges faced by the credit union was that their new potential members lacked identification.

"And you can't open an interest bearing account without a social security number or tax ID number,'' he said. "So we went to work with the government to help get that proper identification. It was a great boon to the purpose of what we were trying to do.''

Once that hurdle was crossed, FMG was well on its way to serving them.

"Through word of mouth, it began to spread (that FMG was serving Hispanics),'' Casselman said, noting that the CU decided against newspaper and radio advertising, for the time being anyway.

The result, he said, is a credit union that is very prepared to address the financial needs of Hispanics and, as they found out through research, Puerto Ricans and Hondurans, who live in the area.

Casselman said his goal now is to share this new "road map'' with other credit unions willing to take on the challenge of reaching deeper into the communities they serve.

"One of the key things I would really like to stress to anyone considering this is that the CEO has got to make an emotional commitment first and a financial commitment second.''

He said Light, who came out of retirement to oversee Family Community Credit Union, has demonstrated his commitment by being involved in the day-to-day activities as well as hiring appropriate staff, setting aside space, training, and committing the resources.

"These people have got to feel that somebody is looking out for their financial interests,'' Casselman said. "You wouldn't believe the looks on their faces when you hand them a card and explain that they can check balances and withdraw money with it.''

Casselman said his goal now is to share the campaign with other CUs interested in making the commitment.

FMG in association with FSCU, is developing a Hispanic Market "How To" series designed to inform, equip and empower credit unions on how to most effectively and efficiently embrace this underserved market.

"We don't pretend to have all the answers, or even know all the questions, but we do know we have pulled together a tightly knit program that is earning the respect and business of the North Alabama Hispanic community,'' he said.

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