Why Every Staffer Needs to Learn Latino Culture

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PITTSBURGH-It takes more than hiring Spanish-speaking employees to effectively serve the Hispanic community.

Jorge Aguero, director of Latin American marketing and development for the $730-million Utah Community CU in Provo, Utah, said that is among the lessons his credit union has learned. Instead, what's most important, is training every front-line staff member to understand the Latino culture, he said.

Aguero was one of a number of CU leaders who shared strategies for effectively serving the Hispanic market during the 6th Latino Credit Union Conference-part of the 36th Annual Conference on Serving the Underserved-at the Omni William Penn Hotel here.

"About four years ago our credit union reached out to the Latino market," Aguero explained. "We had a Spanish-speaking person in each office, and we had forms, documents, and collateral materials in Spanish. But we were not successful. We wondered why."

Aguero said the credit union soon learned that employees were not relating well to Hispanic members because they did not understand the Latino culture and how Hispanic individuals like to be approached, treated, and served.

"The Latino culture is unique in how they interact with people," asserted Aguero. "For example, two white males step into an elevator, they look at each other, keep their distance, say hello, and remain in their own space. Now two Latinos walk into an elevator and suddenly they are hugging and by the end of the ride they're inviting each other over for dinner. It's just different."

Aguero admitted his example was exaggerated, but it affirmed that the uniqueness of the Hispanic culture must be recognized by the credit union. "Even if I don't speak Spanish, as long as I make a real effort to interact with a Hispanic member, show them I care, and try to connect with them, that is all they want. They want you to make the effort. This, above all, will connect you with the Latino community."

Making adjustments to how the CU presents its name to Hispanic members can produce positive results, as well, according to Aguero. "On my business card, below the credit union name, I have 'Su Cooperative Amiga'-your friendly cooperative." Aguero explained that many Latinos do not understand what credit unions are, or even what the name means. "In Latin America, credit unions are not really looked at as a good thing because they often open their doors and a few months later are out of business."

Other ideas shared during the meeting:

• The $42-million District Government Employees CU, Washington, opened a branch in a large Hispanic community and named it ACCESO to connect with Latinos (Credit Union Journal, July 24, 2006).

• The $302-million ASI FCU in Harahan, La., prints a cheat sheet for front-line staff who can't speak Spanish. The two-sided document lists general greetings, common questions, standard requests for CU services, and dollar amounts in both Spanish and English. Each English word, phrase, or statement is located on the left side and the Spanish translation to the right. Employees simply show the Hispanic members the sheet, and motion to members that they should point to what they need.

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