Window Of La Opportunidad May be Closing Fast

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The recently-released Special Report from the Filene Research Institute titled "La Opportunidad" presents credit union officials with fair warning in its "Concluding Thoughts" section: credit unions are not the only financial institutions focusing on serving the needs of the Hispanic population in America.

Written by George Hofheimer, "La Opportunidad" closes smartly with information on how Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Merrill Lynch and other mainstream financial services companies have awakened to the growth potential of providing banking services to this culturally diverse group.

The report does a thorough job of shattering stereotypes and identifying segments of the population by its generational characteristics, but the overall message is that there is need at all levels of income. While it may be well known that only 40% of Hispanics have a bank account of any kind, the number of upper class Hispanic households is put at 3.7 million and growing fast, and the average household income is between $25,000 and $30,000.

The total population is put at 40 million and it is made up of varied groups and nationalities, including Mexicans, Central American, South American and Caribbean peoples as well as natives of Spain. Hispanics live in the suburbs (now 54%). They are an industrious lot, with almost 20 million in the U.S. workforce. Yet, the recent uproar over illegal immigration may be tempered by awareness that unauthorized workers make up less than 5% of the total workforce, or 6.3 million. The jobs they hold are predominantly in the service sector, and many of those jobs are difficult to fill with American laborers.

Overcoming the broad distrust many Hispanics have for financial institutions is a challenge, and it's complicated by equal misunderstanding coming from the banking sector. But the broadest scope of users, those who need transactional services are paying the highest costs for them. That's not the credit union way, and that presents one of the greatest opportunities for growing CU membership, because once that trust is gained, Hispanics are unfailingly loyal.

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