NEW ORLEANS-It's been more than three years since Hurricane Katrina's devastating destruction brought New Orleans to its knees in 2005. Now the Crescent City is recovering, an effort aided by thousands of Hispanic construction workers, many of them new immigrants.
Meeting the financial needs of those workers, many of whom send money home to families in Latin America, has created a new challenge for some New Orleans credit unions. This week, these Crescent City credit unions are learning how to better reach this rapidly growing demographic through a united effort by World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU); the Louisiana Credit Union League (LCUL); the Iowa Credit Union League (ICUL) and its subsidiary Coopera, designed to serve immigrant and emerging populations; and Caja Morelia Valladolid, one of Mexico's largest credit unions.
"Membership levels have been stagnant for Louisiana's credit unions," said Anne Cochran, a WOCCU director and president and CEO of LCUL, which is spearheading the state's Hispanic outreach efforts. "I'd like to see our credit unions take advantage of this opportunity to grow."
The need for workers following Katrina's destruction raised the level of New Orleans' Hispanic population from an estimated 15,000 to more than 50,000, and perhaps to as many as 100,000, according to data collected by ICUL's Coopera, whose staff works with Iowa credit unions to better serve that state's growing Hispanic population. (The transience and number of unregistered citizens Hispanic communities make precise numbers difficult to measure.) The data collected also indicate that nearly 50% of New Orleans' Hispanics currently work in the city's construction industry.
"There is some parallel to the way you reach out to underserved populations of all types," said Patrick Jury, president and CEO of ICUL. "In Iowa, we try to be part of the thought leadership when Hispanic and immigrant issues come up across the state."
LCUL's efforts to reach Hispanic members preceded Hurricane Katrina's arrival, according to Brian Branch, WOCCU's executive vice president and COO. This initiative broadens the scope of those efforts, both in terms of reaching larger numbers of Hispanics and involving more Louisiana credit unions, he added. Further, the collaborating organizations bring new insights. Coopera and ICUL have defined a business methodology in Iowa to reach this market on a profitable basis that will likely have applications in Louisiana. Caja Morelia Valladolid brings insights that will help Louisiana's credit unions seem approachable and user friendly to the immigrants.
"With the need for credit union growth becoming more crucial, especially in the face of the ongoing economic crisis, now is the time for the Louisiana League and its credit unions to step forward and reach out to this group," said Branch.
In addition to Cochran and other LCUL staff, Branch and other WOCCU staff and ICUL's Jury, leaders in this week's educational sessions for New Orleans credit unions include Coopera staff members Warren Morrow and Miriam de Dios and Jesus Ortiz and Ismael Medina from Mexico's Caja Morelia Valladolid.
Participants will embark on an intensive educational experience through credit union visits and classroom lessons about serving Hispanic members; however, initial progress could appear slow, warned Jury.
"When you undertake an initiative like this, it takes some time to see the needle move on progress," said Jury. "There have to be a financial as well as philosophical reasons for credit unions to undertake this effort. It's important to keep in mind what will constitute success, then strive to attain those goals."
World Council of Credit Unions is the global trade association and development agency for credit unions. World Council promotes the sustainable development of credit unions and other financial cooperatives around the world to empower people through access to high quality and affordable financial services. World Council advocates on behalf of the global credit union system before international organizations and works with national governments to improve legislation and regulation. Its technical assistance programs introduce new tools and technologies to strengthen credit unions' financial performance and increase their outreach.
World Council has implemented more than 290 technical assistance programs in 71 countries. Worldwide, 57,000 credit unions in 103 countries serve 208 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.