Minnesota CU Finds Success In Underserved Frogtown

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Efforts by Hiway Federal Credit Union to serve a growing population of Hmongs, Latinos and African-Americans in an area referred to as "Frogtown'' have been very successful.

In its first year, the $534-million credit union drew in 399 members with deposits of nearly $1.9 million and loans just over $800,000. In fact, reports showed that the average deposit amount from the members of the Hmong community was more than $130 higher than that of HFCU's long-time members; an attribute HFCU believes is the result of those members having been better educated about the CU's products and services. The Hmong community refers to immigrants from Southeast Asia.

And, said HFCU Marketing Manager Cara Pingel, the numbers keep growing as Hiway Federal continues to earn their trust by offering financial seminars, employees who speak their languages, and visibility at their cultural events.

Before the CU's charter change, Hiway FCU served only employees of the Department of Transportation and Public Safety, Pingel said. But in the fall of 2002 HFCU was approved for a low-income charter, and Hiway FCU immediately started business development plans to serve Frogtown, where many residents were not only immigrants, but also had very low incomes.

The biggest challenge, Pingel said, was creating an internal culture in which these residents could relate and feel comfortable. That meant having all the staff undergo diversity training that has included seminars led by diverse members of the community.

Expanded Department

Pingel said the CU's business development department was also expanded to better serve and participate in community activities, serve on boards and committees, and provide financial support.

In addition, the CU hired and trained both Hmong and Latino residents who could speak their languages and understand their cultural differences, including their skepticism about financial institutions, their comfort with cash and their hesitation about borrowing.

The Hmong, especially, are very conscientious about borrowing, she said. "If they can't pay you back, someone in the family will.''

At the same time, the credit union reached into the community via advertisements in local newspapers and through community and church organizations with offers of free financial seminars. In addition, the CU created direct mail pieces and invested $45,000 in a multi-phased billboard campaign addressing name identification and branding of HFCU as the community alternative to high-fee banking and no-bank services such as check cashing outlets.

Since opening its doors to Frogtown residents, Pingel said the lobby traffic has increased substantially, mainly because the Hmong prefer doing business face-to-face.

Pingel said the outreach efforts have expanded to local churches and schools where marketing, member services and community involvement staff have hosted financial seminars and classroom training for those communities' youths.

For more information: www.hmongnet.org.

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