Seeing the Juntos Avanzamos flag fly at a credit union can look like a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval or a refuge from the storm, depending on your perspective.
The Together We Advance program began in Texas as an immigrant outreach effort and now is going nationwide. Credit unions that earn the designation have proven they are committed to serving and empowering Hispanic consumers.
Juntos Avanzamos was launched 2005 and expanded into Oklahoma and Arkansas after the formation of the Cornerstone Credit Union League in 2013, and this past fall announced its national expansion through a partnership with the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, the Coopera consulting firm, and a growing number of state leagues.
Juntos Avanzamos is a way for qualifying credit unions to ensure they are truly Hispanic-friendly, and then tells the community is credit union is ready and willing to serve this demographic, Cornerstone president and CEO Dick Ensweiler said when the partnership was announced in October. Juntos Avanzamos has proven to be an excellent outreach program in Texas and Oklahoma and is now ready to be expanded elsewhere.
The application criteria are available at the bottom for the program’s landing page at the Federation site. The Network of Latino Credit Unions and Professionals will be highlighting the program at its GAC reception on Tuesday, Feb. 23, from noon to 2 p.m. at the Kennedy Center. RSVP to email@example.com.
The Federation now lists more than 40 Juntos Avanzamos credit unions in six states and the District of Columbia. The criteria are broad and include bilingual member-facing staff, remittance services, second-chance checking, financial education, board involvement and strategic planning that focuses on serving that population. They’re pretty specific, too, including this: Credit union provides personal loans for individuals who use an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) instead of a Social Security number.
One of the newest Juntos Avanzamos designees Lower Valley Credit Union ($99.9M, Sunnyside, WA) has only about 12,500 members but has made 2,400 ITIN loans since 2012, says its president and CEO, Suzy Fonseca. Settled in a rural, agriculture center of the Evergreen State, Lower Valley’s membership is about 90% Hispanic and so is its staff, Fonseca says.
This is the Juntos Avanzamos logo that also appears on the flag that credit unions can fly once they earn the designation.
When people who live and work in our area see that flag waving, they recognize that it’s a safe haven, that if they come to us, they’ll be fine, Fonseca says. That means safe from predatory lenders and unsavory banking practices, of course, and more. There have been ICE (Immigrant and Customs Enforcement) raids around area, where people have been taken and deported from warehouses and grocery stores, Fonseca says.
CU QUICK FACTS
lower valley credit union
Data as of 12.31.15
- HQ: Sunnyside, WA
- ASSETS: $99.9M
- MEMBERS: 12,650
- BRANCHES: 3
- 12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 10.31%
- 12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 13.69%
- ROA: 0.95%
Her credit union’s ITIN loans average $10,000 to $13,000 each and are used to build credit and buy homes and help borrowers along the path to citizenship. The designation also will be helpful in assuring regulators that all is OK with the credit union’s underwriting methods.
We’ve been yelling at regulators to help us develop a model that shows how credit unions like us are doing lending, and that it’s OK and it works, Fonseca says. The Juntos Avanzamos is a great way to build a network that educates regulators, citizens, and the industry alike.
CU QUICK FACTS
sce Federal Credit Union
Data as of 12.31.15
- HQ: El Monte, CA
- ASSETS: $636.4M
- MEMBERS: 48,299
- BRANCHES: 10
- 12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 5.63%
- 12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 17.99%
- ROA: 0.47%
The same applies in the big city, says Pascual Garrido, director of business development and community relations at SCE Federal Credit Union ($636,4M, El Monte, CA). His Los Angeles credit union’s Juntos Avanzamos designation is a natural follow-up to its designation as a Community Development Financial Institution and the formation of its Center for Financial Empowerment.
Educating Hispanic folks about not being taken advantage of by predatory lenders and check cashers as really been a primary thing for us, Garrido says. He says more than 20,000 people have attended the more than 400 classes the credit union’s center has offered since it was formed six years ago.
I know in our community the power of word-of-mouth can be incredible. Once people realize we’re a safe haven and a great place to not get taken advantage of, they’ll swarm into our office.
Garrido says he expects the Juntos Avanzamos program to see strong growth as the word gets out in Latino neighborhoods. I know in our community the power of word-of-mouth can be incredible. Once people realize we’re a safe haven and a great place to not get taken advantage of, they’ll swarm into our office.