DES MOINES, Iowa—2017 will be the year U.S. credit unions pay much more attention to those who speak limited English and to serving their growing financial needs, asserts one expert.
Miriam De Dios, CEO of Coopera, said this shift will happen due not only to consumer groups and regulators raising the attention of FIs in this country, as they more closely monitor how financial organizations serve individuals with limited English proficiency, but also due to CUs understanding how big of a difference they can make in these people’s lives.
“Regulatory compliance will not be credit unions’ only motivating factor, however. More professionals in the movement are recognizing that this growing consumer segment represents an opportunity to improve lives—often dramatically,” said De Dios.
Today, one-in-six workers in the U.S. is an immigrant, and immigrants are more than twice as likely to start businesses as U.S.-born citizens, said De Dios.
Excluded From Financial System
“Carrying with them beliefs about how to best handle their finances based on their native country experiences, these individuals are likely to remain excluded from the U.S. financial system, even after obtaining citizenship,” she said. “That’s because their big dreams are often accompanied by an even bigger mistrust of financial institutions.”
When immigrant families do overcome their hesitancy to use a U.S. financial institution, too often they encounter a bank or CU that is not ready to serve them, De Dios said.
“It’s hard to feel welcomed by an organization that does not understand your needs, your values or even your language. As you can imagine, this kind of experience reignites mistrust, and immigrant families are back to square one—transacting only in cash and paying exorbitant fees to do so,” De Dios said.
Unfortunately, De Dios explained, credit union membership is an entirely foreign concept to most immigrant communities.
“We believe cooperatives in every single region of the U.S. will begin to change that in 2017,” De Dios said.
Ask Key Questions
To educate, attract and eventually serve this group and others in the limited English-proficient segment, credit unions will start to ask key questions about their readiness, De Dios asserted.
“Does their cooperative culture align with the values of their prospective members? Do they have foreign-language speakers and those with first-hand knowledge of multicultural nuances on staff? Will their pursuit of a more diverse membership and ultimately a diverse leadership be supported by senior management and the board of directors?” she said. “As our country—and really our entire world— becomes increasingly multicultural, inclusivity and diversity will come into greater focus for the movement’s strategic planners.”