Texas Credit Union League Awards Juntos Avanzamos Flag for Hispanic Outreach Efforts

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As part of a new Texas Credit Union League initiative called Juntos Avanzamos (Together We Advance), Neighborhood Credit Union here and two others in the state have been recognized for their commitment to the Hispanic population.

Each has been honored with a specially designed flag that league officials hope will become a symbol that invites Hispanics to these institutions for friendly, affordable financial services. The honor also qualifies them for grant money through the Richard L. Ensweiler Fund for Hispanic outreach and education.

"Now, Hispanics in these communities know where they can go for financial services," said Linda Webb-Manon, Communications Director for the Texas Credit Union League. "This flag identifies credit unions in Texas that have the compassion, the capacity and the commitment to serve Hispanics in our market."

The first flag was raised at Neighborhood CU during a moving ceremony last month attended by NCU CEO Chet Kimmell, TCUL CEO Dick Ensweiler, Caja Popular Mexicana CEO Ramon Imperial, local lawmakers and the CU's entire board of directors.

"Seeing the CEO of (the largest) CU in Mexico and a CEO in Dallas raising this flag together was a wonderful experience," Webb-Manon said. "It showed that it's not all talk within the credit union industry. This is real. The spirit of people helping people does exist."

The flag that Webb-Manon hopes to present to other CUs around the state has a white background with the words "Juntos Avanzamos" around a picture of the world to represent the cooperative nature of credit unions.

Texas is home to the second largest Hispanic population in the United States. Unfortunately, Webb-Manon said, many Hispanics are of modest means and unbanked, putting them at higher risk for exploitation by payday lenders.

The TCUL has put forth many efforts to assist this population, including partnering with Caja Popular Mexicana, and offering its CUs access to seminars and brain storming sessions with experts from across the country to determine best practices for this unique market.

To earn the Juntos Avanzamos designation, CUs must meet a specific criterion that demonstrates their efforts and commitments to serving Hispanics in their area. That includes having bilingual staff both on site and at call centers, written materials in Spanish and financial education and outreach and wire transfer services to Mexico.

They had to complete an extensive application and thoroughly document their efforts to serve their Hispanic communities, Webb-Manon said.

Neighborhood CU, San Antonio City Employees FCU and West Texas CU, all met those requirements.

"What we hope for is that these flags become statewide and that this program be expanded in every state and every community," she said.

NCU's Kimmell called the designation a "stamp of approval" for efforts his CU has been devoted to for several years. He said about 20% of his members are Hispanic. NCU has $225 million in assets and about 30,000 members.

"Our primary focus has been adult education where we've partnered with a number of different schools to teach new immigrants basic financial concepts and familiarize them with what's going on in the United States," he said. "We've also set up programs where folks can easily wire transfer money to Mexico and are committed to having Spanish-speaking staff in each of our branches and phone centers."

Kimmell said NCU also offers brochures and other materials in Spanish.

Eve Hernandez, VP of Marketing at San Antonio City Employees FCU, likened the Juntos Avanzamos designation to the "Good Housekeeping Seal."

"As much as new Americans and immigrant markets rely on word of mouth for partners and vendors they can use from day to day, we would like to see them recognize this designation to mean that we are a trusted financial partner."

SACEFCU CEO earned the flag by demonstrating that it has the tools to serve the Hispanic population in its market, said CEO Tim Haegelin. SACEFCU has $277 million in assets and 43,000 members.

"About 50% of our workforce is bilingual and all of our products, services, reading materials and certain delivery systems like the phone bank are available in Spanish," he said. "In San Antonio, the Hispanic population is over 60 percent and our membership reflects the community."

Haegelin said offering services to Hispanics has been a "lifestyle" at his CU for many years.

Rufino Carbajal, CEO of West Texas CU, El Paso, echoed the sentiment, explaining that his CU is a border city to Mexico.

"Seventy to 80% of the population in El Paso is Hispanic," he said. "Almost everybody here has some sort of roots to Mexico."

Carbajal said his CU has been a leader in reaching out to its Spanish-speaking members with everything from communication tools to educational resources. Among its most recent efforts, he said, was a campaign to protect its members from predatory lenders.

"One hundred percent of our people are bilingual," he said, adding that its newsletters and Internet site are also available in Spanish. "I think that we've shown throughout the many years that we've been here that we are a friendly institution that Hispanics can come to and be treated with fairness."

WTCU, though considered small with $46 million in assets, has more than 16,000 members, Carbajal said. (c) 2006 The Credit Union Journal and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved. http://www.cujournal.com http://www.sourcemedia.com

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