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Dan Cote, who hopes to charter a credit union here and who has extensive experience in dealing with immigrants, is urging CU managers to beware of making assumptions about the credit-worthiness of new arrivals in the United States.

"They don't know that first-generation immigrants present a lower credit risk than non-immigrants," asserted Cote, CEO of New American CU-a prospective CU he describes as in the final stages of obtaining its state charter. He said he has the staff and facility in place, and has done eight months of marketing in anticipation of opening. The last step is showing state regulators that capital is in place.

Cote founded First Immigrant's Funding in 1995. The company's purpose: give mortgage loans to immigrants, who traditionally have trouble getting attention from banks.

Besides perceived cultural and language barriers, the fact that immigrants do not have an established credit history in America, or have a job history that jumps around a lot, makes it difficult for them to qualify for a loan, he explained.

"I've been issuing mortgages to immigrants for eight years, and nobody has defaulted. Why? Because the first generation brings with them a work ethic," said Cote. "They also have intense pride of ownership in the house, car or computer they buy with a loan. They are not going to do anything to break that trust in extending them the loan."

"They will break their back before missing a payment."

Another factor is the extended family is alive and well in immigrant families, Cote explained. They have the pooled income of the entire household, not one individual.

Most immigrants have a negative association with all financial institutions-and credit unions are lumped in with banks, he said. In many countries, they have seen banks and financial institutions fail, and people taking off with their money.

CUs need to be sensitive to an immigrant's fear of failure, said Cote.

"They don't want to be turned down, and many people in their communities have told them, 'What makes you think someone is going to give you a loan to start a business?' These things keep people away, and we need to educate people in the community."

When Cote markets mortgages, he places ads in ethnic media, but he said the best way to reach people is by working with churches and business owners in the community. "Ads in the media give you name recognition, but they don't bring people in the door," he said.

Cote anticipates a healthy demand for member business services once New American gets its charter.

"Immigrants realize they are not going to get anywhere at $7 or $8 per hour, no matter how hard they work. They understand they need to open their own businesses," he said.

Seattle has many immigrant groups, including Hispanics from many countries in Central and South America, Russians, Ukrainians, Indians, Pakistanis, people from several Asian countries, including Chinese and Vietnamese, and Africans, including Ethiopians and Somalis.

At First Immigrant's Funding the staff speaks a dozen languages. "It's like a little United Nations here," Cote quipped.

Cote said he first learned about the work ethic and behavior of immigrants when he hired a first- generation immigrant as a staff member at another institution where he worked.

"This person was Hispanic, and began educating me about how hard they work, how difficult it is for them," he said. "Those lessons sank in, and when I started my own business, I knew I wanted to offer something to that niche market."

"When I first started my business, I did not have a clue how it would go-I didn't know how many people would default on their loans. What I learned about the Hispanic community-its work ethic and drive-also applied to other immigrants."

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