Study of New Americans Suggests CUs Segment Market In Order To Capture It

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The more than 33-million immigrants who are classified as "New Americans are having as much of an effect on their financial institutions as their financial institutions can have on them, according to a new study.

"The impact of immigrants on the U.S. economy promises tremendous opportunities for organizations that are able to recognize and respond to their needs," suggests a new study from the Filene Research Institute entitled, "Serving New Americans: A Strategic Opportunity for Credit Unions." The report is based upon a colloquium of immigration experts and credit union CEOs and was sponsored by the Filene Research Institute and the Center for Credit Union Research, and hosted by the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego.

According to renowned migration expert Alejandro Portes, director of the Center for Migration and Development at Princeton University, second-generation immigrant youths face significant challenges as they become acclimated to American society. Portes urges business and community leaders to understand the immense differences in financial needs and resources among various immigrant groups.

"Credit unions must segment the various groups that make up the overall immigrant community if they are to serve this population effectively," the study states, with Portes calling for the use of market research tools, including focus groups, to measure the attitudes of specific immigrant populations before implementing programs to serve them.

Steven A. Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., pointed out that the number of immigrants in the U.S. currently stands at 11.5% of the total population, and has risen by more than two million over the past 10 years. Of the total foreign born population, Mexico contributes 29%, East Asia 18%, Europe 14%, and the Caribbean region 10%. Camarota said the size of the immigrant population presents big opportunities to financial institutions willing to invest the time and resources necessary to serve it. "For example, about 10% of immigrants identify themselves as self-employed or entrepreneurs-essentially the same percentage as among the native born population," he noted. "That presents opportunities for services such as business lending to groups currently underserved by the banking industry."

California League VP-Credit Union Development Kim Bannan says language continues to be the No. 1 barrier to immigrant use of traditional financial service organizations in this country. Bannan urged credit unions to staff branches serving immigrant populations with individuals who speak and understand not just the conversational language of the immigrants they serve, but also the business and financial language necessary to make financial transactions.

"Serving New Americans: A Strategic Opportunity for Credit Unions" also features panel discussions by CEOs and marketing directors of credit unions with active strategies to serve new Americans.

"This report focuses attention on the opportunities available to serve a large and growing market," says Bob Hoel, Filene Research Institute Executive Director. "We need to understand that immigrants represent a population as diverse and segmented as our country itself, and that in order to be successful, we must match our marketing and service operations to their specific needs."

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