One S.C. CU's Response To 'Spanish Revolution'

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The Southern U.S. has changed in more ways than just evolving into red states from blue states. In many ways, the South has the feel of other flag colors altogether.

Bruce Blumfield, CEO of the $1.2-billion Founders FCU, said he has certainly seen and felt the changes in the rural South Carolina community served by FFCU, which has approximately 140,000 members and serves 600 SEGs through 20 serve centers.

In remarks before NCUA's Partnering And Leadership Successes (PALS) Conference here, which was organized by NCUA board member Debbie Matz, Blumfield's primary focus was what he called "The Spanish Revolution" in his home state.

Approximately five years ago, he said, it became impossible not to notice how many Hispanics was moving into its markets. In addition, its original and still large primary sponsor said its goal was to have 50% of its employees be Hispanic.

The credit union saw the Spanish handwriting on the wall, and responded by visiting with other credit unions, talking with the Spanish-speaking community, researching use of alternative documentation and applications, and taking other steps.

One of those steps, initially, was attempting to train its own staff to speak Spanish. That step faltered, he admitted.

"We have found you can't train rural South Carolinians to speak Spanish fluently," said Blumfield, only half joking. Instead, it has begun hiring natives of Mexico, Guatamala, the Dominican Republic and other countries, and pays them a premium for their skills. All employees, regardless of ethnic group, were put through cultural training. "It's all about trust and loyalty," said Blumfield. "If they trust you, you'll do well. If not, you might as well forget it."

Using Spanish media to announce the opening of a new bilingual branch, more than 2,000 people turned out for the event. It has since followed up with new advertising that plays to trust, family and confidence. "We've just rolled this out and we're seeing a great influx of members as a result," said Blumfield. "People ask us all the time what's the breakeven on the branch. We don't know and don't care. We've made a commitment to this community."

Separate from those efforts, Founders has deployed risk-based pricing on its loans using Beacon scores. "If you can tailor (Beacon scores) to fit your membership, it works well," he said.

Most recently, FFCU has tailored its own criteria, lowering its "A" paper to a Beacon of 675 or higher. "If you can tailor (Beacon scores) to fit your membership, it works well," he said.

Founders FCU has three full-time employees who do credit counseling, and has begun sending members who meet certain criteria letters before they fall into trouble. In fact, Blumfield said FFCU has approximately 150 members whose paychecks it receives in their entirety; the credit union has negotiated with creditors, makes payments and gives those members an "allowance."

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