Next Test In Hispanic Market: The PR Game

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Credit unions have made major contributions in reaching out to the Hispanic market, but more progress can be made, particularly in getting the same amount of public recognition as banking giants such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo Bank, a group of California, Nevada and Texas credit union leaders concluded.

The CU leaders were meeting as part of a forum on international issues sponsored by the California/Nevada league here. "We have the capacity to do a better job than banks in serving the Hispanic market," said David L. Chatfield, president and CEO of the California league.

The group noted that credit unions were among the first to reach out to the Hispanic market, but banks are now aggressively chasing the business. "They're just taking their money," Pat Wagner, CCUL chairman and CEO of New World FCU, said of banks that have started catering to Hispanics. "We've got to get in there."

More than 30 credit union CEOs, senior management team members, and board members attended the forum, which was sponsored and organized by the league's International Task Force. The forum focused on why and how credit union leaders can address issues that affect the international community.

Among the forum's featured speakers were Maria Contreras-Sweet, California secretary of business, transportation and housing; Mexican Consul Carlos Giralt Cabrales; Aubrey Stone, executive director and CEO of the California Black Chamber of Commerce; Lucy Ito, WOCCU vice president; and Troy Stang, VP-PR for the Texas league.

Julian Flores, CEO of El Futuro CU, noted that his credit union accepted the matricula consular, an identification card issued to expatriates by the Mexican government, years before Wells Fargo and Bank of America received publicity for doing the same thing. Many credit unions and other financial institutions now accept these cards as a form of identification to open accounts.

"We've gotten good at the politics. We need to get as good at telling our story as the bankers. We've got to do a better job at telling the story ourselves," observed Wagner.

The World Council's Lucy Ito reported that, in the first quarter of 2003, $2.7 billion was remitted through WOCCU's International Remittance Network, or IRnet, up 26% from the same period in 2002. IRnet is an electronic funds transfer service that provides credit union members a safe and inexpensive way to send money overseas or domestically.

Ito encouraged California credit unions to "keep forging ahead and to keep closing the gap." WOCCU has helped establish partnerships between international credit union movements and the U.S. movement similar to the California and Texas leagues' relationship, with Caja Popular Mexicana, the largest credit union in Mexico.

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