Hispanic Heritage Month was expanded into a month-long celebration of the Hispanic American community by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. Since then credit unions have struggled with how to best observe this annual event and make inroads into the Hispanic community. The best way to observe Hispanic Heritage Month is to make a meaningful contribution to the community, and the best way to do that is to reach out and serve the Hispanic community, recruit and develop Hispanic talent, and partner with local organizations serving the community.
The first point should be obvious, yet the facts show that more needs to be done. According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Hispanic community is more “unbanked” or “underbanked” than the overall population because they have lower savings account ownership rates, are less likely to visit a branch, have lower rates of saving for unexpected expenses or emergencies, and are more likely not to have mainstream credit, among other statistics. Credit unions have a responsibility to help address these concerns by offering the Hispanic community the financial services and products they need. There is so much opportunity and potential for credit unions to thrive and prosper partnering with the community as its population and buying power is growing, to the point where the Hispanic-American GDP is now the eighth largest in the world.
Yet the way credit unions often market to the Hispanic community fails to gain any traction. Growing up in Miami, a community with a very large Spanish speaking community, I remember watching Spanish TV and seeing ads from companies, in English. These companies didn’t even bother to translate the ads into Spanish! Also the ads wouldn’t feature anyone who seemed Hispanic and the messaging clearly wasn’t intended for a Hispanic audience.
In addition, often whenever Hispanics would actually go into a branch, they often struggle to find someone who speaks Spanish fluently. Don’t just assume that if people live in the United States, that they can speak English. Over 26 Million people in this country do not speak English “very well”. How do you expect people to entrust their finances in products and services they don’t understand due to a language barrier? Unfortunately, there is an established history of financial institutions taking advantage of the language barrier to make a quick buck at the expense of the community. Well Fargo was sued for allegedly steering Hispanics into expensive and risky loans they didn’t understand and not staffing their branches with Spanish speaking loan officers.
Staffing your credit union with Hispanic and Spanish speaking employees, including in managerial, executive, and board positions, will go a long way in serving the financial needs of our community. How do you know they actually speak Spanish? You can get their language skills certified through Language Testing International, as other financial institutions have done, and have the peace of mind that they can effectively communicate the value of membership in your credit union. Hispanics very much value word-of-mouth recommendations from their friends and families, and they can be among your most vocal promoters if they have a good experience at your credit union. In addition, invest the resources into developing and promoting your Hispanic employees into high profile positions within the credit union. Commitments to diversity and inclusion need to go beyond press releases and statements, and include an intentional effort to truly value your Hispanic personnel. Spotlight your Hispanic employees and highlight their cultures and contributions to your organization.
Credit unions don’t have to re-create the wheel. They can partner with the many types of non-profit organizations that already serve the Hispanic community. There are local Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, churches, and other philanthropic organizations that are looking for credit unions to partner with them. I also serve as the President of the Connecticut Chapter of Prospanica, a national association of Hispanic professionals, and we have worked with local credit unions to help serve the needs of our community.
It’s fine if a credit union publishes a statement celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. But if a credit union truly wants to honor Hispanic Heritage Month, then they need to do more. First, make an intentional effort to better serve the community by featuring Spanish ads targeting the Hispanic market and by having certified Spanish speakers serving in your branch. Then, recruit, retain, and promote Hispanic talent throughout your organization and celebrate their culture and contributions. Also, partner with local non-profits and utilize their knowledge and experience in the community. Finally, even though Hispanic Heritage Month ends in October, these steps should be practiced year-round. The benefits will far offset any costs that may be incurred.