How one Indiana CU is serving the region's growing Hispanic population

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The Mexican/Hispanic immigrant population in the state of Indiana has more than doubled since 2010, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, creating a burgeoning market for local financial institutions – including credit unions.

Of the estimated 350,000 Hispanics that currently call Indiana home, about 70 percent are Mexicans.

In light of this demographic change, Financial Center First Credit Union, a $538 million institution based in Indianapolis, recently formalized its partnership with the local Mexican Consulate in order to help the region’s Hispanic community become more familiar with credit unions and the services they offer.

Specifically, Consul Luis Enrique Franco and Financial Center First CU President & CEO J. Kevin Ryan have signed a memorandum of understanding that will allow the credit union to offer financial education, along with banking products and services, to Mexican immigrants living in central Indiana.

Under the agreement, the credit union will exclusively provide weekly seminars at the consular facility, with the intention of boosting immigrants’ trust in the U.S. banking system. These sessions will also include discussions of topics such as documentation needed to obtain bank accounts and loans, credit-building, small business loans, retirement planning and insurance services.

Marco Dominguez, director of community relations at Financial Center First CU, told Credit Union Journal the majority of Mexicans in Indiana work in the areas of construction, hotels and restaurants, landscaping and manufacturing. There is also a large number of Mexicans working in the field of education, he added.

Financial Center First’s relationship with the Mexican Consulate goes back several years to when the diplomatic office first opened in Indiana. “We noticed that many members of [the Mexican] community needed to have more information about how the financial world here in the U.S. functioned,” Dominguez said. “In 2009, Financial Center First began approaching different immigrant communities.”

In 2010, the credit union created a Hispanic Advisory Council on its board of directors in order to help guide programs and products that could support the financial needs of Latinos. That council advised the board to initiate financial literacy classes aimed at the Hispanic community, as well as to other newcomers.

No documentation? No problem
Dominguez noted that the credit union does not concern itself with the documentation status of the immigrants it is trying to serve. “Our role is to provide education and banking services to people that present the necessary documentation to open accounts with us,” he said, citing such identification vehicles as Individual Taxpayer Identification numbers, Social Security numbers, the Matricula Consular cards (an ID card issued by the Mexican government), passports and electoral IDs, among others.

“Our goal is to serve as many people as possible,” Dominguez declared. “We begin those relationships through education – because that is a gap [for] those coming here from different countries – knowing and trusting the U.S. banking system.”

Cultural sensitivities are also at play. Dominguez explained that in many Latin American countries, financial institutions are “totally different” from those in the U.S.

“People don’t trust their financial institutions,” he explained. “Financial Center First understands this cultural difference and works to explain this in their own language and to gain trust and providing follow-through help them understand and trust in the complex U.S. financial system.”

In addition, as specified by consulate chief Franco, financial education at the consulate is open to the entire community, not just Latinos.

But gaining new members for the credit union is not in itself the primary goal behind this initiative.

Dominquez estimated that through the classes provided at the Consulate, the credit union will be able to educate around 450 people per month. “Of course, we hope that some of these conversations lead to new banking relationships for us, but as a credit union, we believe that it is our responsibility to help improve the financial lives of the communities we serve,” he added. “And just the fact that we are getting the opportunity to provide financial education makes the program a success.”

Large network of CUs serving this market

According to Dusty Simmons, VP of membership development at FCFCU, the credit union is not currently a member of the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions’ Juntos Avanzamos program, which aims to boost credit union participation among Hispanic immigrants.

The credit union does not have a CDCU designation and Simmons said seeking one “is not in our plan at this time.”

But that didn’t stop one Federation representative from praising Financial Center’s work to bring immigrants into the credit union system.

According to Pablo DeFilippi, senior vice president of membership and network engagement at the Federation, FCFCU has been a Federation Community Development Partner since it opened a “mini branch” back in 2007.

“That was the first and, I still believe, the only credit union branch operating at a Mexican consulate,” he said. “They are definitely an innovator and there’s a huge potential for credit unions to develop similar partnerships.”

DeFilippi added that the Federation has been working with the Mexican Consulate of New York to connect Juntos Avanzamos-designated credit unions to their financial inclusion efforts, specifically to their Financial Empowerment Window (Ventanilla Financiera), a new service developed in New York that is now being replicated across the entire Mexican consulate network.

“The consulate has been very receptive because the Juntos designation gives them assurances that participant credit unions will in fact meet the needs of the Mexican community,” DeFilippi added. “There’s a thorough evaluation process to assess a credit union’s capacity to serve this demographic -- bilingual capabilities; bicultural competency; institutional commitment; and loan underwriting policies and processes; etc. -- and that means that Juntos CUs are ready and able to serve this market.”

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