How Baxter Credit Union Is Reaching Hispanics

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Credit unions may be a step ahead of their service providers in the race to serve the Hispanic market, according to one credit union here that has been making efforts to serve the local Spanish-speaking community for the past three years.

"Credit unions that want to serve the Hispanic market have to make sure that their service providers have the resources to support the Spanish language," said Astrid Perez, manager of bilingual membership development at Baxter CU. "And many of the providers are pretty far behind."

Lagging technologies could hinder the industry's recent fervor over an emerging market. Latinos are the largest and fastest growing minority group in the U.S., with $600 billion in purchasing power, reported Debbie Matz, NCUA board member in a recent Credit Union Journal article.

Courting the Hispanic community requires a tailored communication infrastructure, Perez said. "Technology plays a big part in supporting efforts to get involved in the community."

Getting involved has not always been easy. For example, the $850-million CU created its own bilingual homebanking site by translating the existing English version, said Perez.

"We were not able to offer everything on the Spanish site that we were able to offer on the English site because some of our providers were not able to offer the services in Spanish," she said. For now, only the English language site hosts an online auto loan application, for example.

Some Remain English Only

And while Baxter CU's credit card vendor provides a toll-free Spanish line, paper and electronic statements are still only available in English, she said.

In contrast, "ATMs are easy-providers have bilingual options," Perez noted.

Perez said that vendors aren't resistant to developing Spanish language options, but Baxter CU is trying to push vendors to pick up the pace. The CU hopes to highlight Spanish-language technology issues as part of a new credit union consortium, including San Bernardino, Calif.-based Arrowhead; Phoenix, Ariz.-based Desert Schools Federal, and Charlotte, N.C.-based Charlotte Metro Credit Unions.

Some vendors have answered the industry's call. For example, Boise, Idaho-based Database Management Services, Inc. (DMS) recently released a Spanish version of its HomeCU home banking platform.

Baxter CU, with 20% of its membership living in Puerto Rico, first started building its Spanish language infrastructure by implementing a provider's Spanish-speaking option at its call center.

Members who call can choose Spanish or English options before other options are presented. "That way, the member doesn't have to wait to be transferred to a Spanish speaking representative," Perez explained.

Building Database

In addition, the credit union has been busy building its own language preference database. When members provide a language preference to an MSR or via an online profile, the credit union tracks and codes the preference within its core processing and MCIF systems.

Perez said that Baxter CU has shied away from purchasing commercially-available demographic lists indicating language preference because they are often inaccurate.

The language preference database allows Baxter Credit Union to cater to members at every touch-point.

For example, a member's language preference is flashed across teller and call center monitors before a transaction.

Knowing the member's language preference has also helped the 106,000-member credit union's marketing department. "We use the database to target all written communications, notices, letters, and promotions," she said.

"Two years ago, we started marketing in Spanish," said Perez. "From the moment we started marketing in Spanish we could see our auto lending numbers increasing."

One of the most competitive commodities a credit union can offer is a money transfer service, Perez said. "Wire transfers are key, yet it's been hard for us to sell the service because people have been going to other merchants-and even paying higher prices-for years."

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