Cooperating to Serve Increasingly Diverse Communities

The US population just surpassed 300 million. Now is the time for credit unions to think about how they can work together to serve an increasingly diverse and growing membership.


The morning of Tuesday, October 17th was probably like any other for you. Yet while you were commuting to work and planning your day, the US population was exploding past the 300 million mark. This latest milestone highlights the rapidly changing demographics of the US population. According to the US Census Bureau, America now gains one person every 11 seconds, 40% of whom are immigrants. Both immigrating and US-born Latinos are the driving force behind recent population increases. This group is expected to number nearly 48 million by the end of the decade.

America’s rapidly growing and diversifying population presents both an opportunity and a challenge for credit unions. Currently there are almost 89 million credit union members, or about 30% of the US population. This means credit unions can significantly grow their membership, but they need to do so while planning new ways to meet increasingly diverse needs of potential members.

Shared Branching Serves a Diverse Community: Acceso’s Story
Increased diversification is evident even in the nation’s capital. DC’s population has traditionally been White and African-American. According to the 2000 census, nearly 6% of residents are now Latino. Several neighborhoods have Latino populations of nearly 25%.

The CEOs at IDB-IIC ($269M), OAS ($117M) and District Government Employees ($41M) credit unions wanted to serve the heavily Latino Mount Pleasant neighborhood in Northwest DC. To bypass current credit union charter limitations, they formed a shared branch called “Acceso”, the Spanish word for access. As the name implies, Acceso is designed to meet the needs of this population by providing financial services like:

  • Accepting foreign ID cards so undocumented workers can open accounts
  • Non-interest earning savings accounts for members without documentation or Tax ID numbers so they can keep their money in a safe place
  • Educational programs to help members prepare for home loans
  • Credit risk evaluation based on timely rent and utility payments, not just credit score
  • Competitively priced wire transfers that cost less than a third of what competitors like Western Union charge

According to Bruce Cameron, CEO of IDB-IIC credit union, though it can be difficult to gain trust from recent immigrants, so far community response to Acceso has been positive. Community involvement through neighborhood organizations and community open houses has helped to strengthen member growth. Cameron adds that if this branch is successful they hope to expand to other underserved neighborhoods in the city.

Acceso‘s example shows that credit unions can adapt to changes in the population around them and can build upon the cooperative tradition to better serve the needs of new member groups. Through cooperation and adaptation, credit unions will ensure that as the US population continues to grow and change, the credit union movement will continue to strengthen.

Learn more about which credit unions are partnering together to reach members with the 2006 Directory of Credit Union Cooperatives.