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Heartland Credit Union not only found a new way to attract and serve Hispanic members, it didn't spend a dime in the process.

Like many credit unions around the nation, Heartland CU was examining a Spanish-language version of its telephone member service directory, the traditional "Press 1 for ...", that is so prevalent these days. Or, could they bypass the system entirely, saving time and money?

"We were looking for a way to provide a Spanish version of our phone tree," according to Heartland CU Vice President Robin Marohn. "Why not just have a separate phone for Jen?"

"Jen" is

Financial Services Representative Jennifer Armaza-Meneses, who had worked as an assistant to a previous employee serving Spanish-speaking members and applicants. She stepped up to fill the position and Heartland FCU installed the English-only and Spanish-only telephones to get her started.

Marohn said setting up the Spanish-only phone was as simple as plugging it into the wall. No muss, no fuss, and a one-shot phone call to a Spanish-speaking MSR is complete. If Armaza-Meneses answers one phone she says "hello", if she answers the other, it's "hola".

It's everything in general from account balances to 'how do I get a loan?'" she said.

Armaza-Meneses describes herself as a "personal banker" who talks to prospective or new members one-on-one, opens their account or starts a loan application. Armaza-Meneses performs any financial transaction, except mortgages, and answers up to 25 calls per day on the Spanish-only telephone. Armaza-Meneses even has two different business cards, one for each telephone.

"When they come in and sit down with Jen, they should by able to do everything in her office," Marohn said.

Marohn said Heartland Federal doesn't buy much advertising, but runs print ads in a local Hispanic newspaper "La Communidad" to capture that "booming" market in Madison.

The ads are in Spanish, feature a photograph of Armaza-Meneses and list the direct line to her.

Marohn said Hispanic members who are content with the products and services of any credit union are very vocal about it, informing friends and family members about their experiences.

"It's a great way to grow your membership. Latino members are unbelievably loyal," he said.

Armaza-Meneses has worked the two telephones for a couple of years now and said Spanish-speaking members or callers are more comfortable with an MSR who speaks their native tongue.

"They're happy about it. They don't feel intimidated anymore," she said.

Marohn said having a direct line to a bilingual employee allays some of the fears and suspicions of many immigrant workers or new citizens.

Many Hispanics new to the United States come from countries with poor economies or financial institutions. Heartland FCU still has a traditional Spanish version of its telephone service system for Hispanic members who haven't heard of the direct line to Armaza-Meneses.

"There isn't a whole lot of trust in financial institutions for whatever reason," he said. "Having Jen on staff helps to build that trust."

Heartland FCU has 18,000 members and $124 million in assets.

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