Lower Valley Credit Union Proves Its Worth to the Hispanic Community

Washington’s Lower Valley Credit Union is the first in the Northwest to receive the Juntos Avanzamos designation, showing it is willing and able to be a strong partner to this growing community.

Lower Valley Credit Union (LVCU) takes its work helping underserved communities seriously. It is a low-income and CDFI designated credit union, and 88% of its members live in a low-income area. The credit union was also honored as a 2014 CU Times Trailblazer for Service to the Underserved.

And in a flag-raising ceremony on January 19, LVCU became the first Northwest credit union to add the Juntos Avanzamos (“Together We Advance”) designation to its résumé.

Juntos Avanzamos was created to help credit unions understand the financial needs of the Hispanic market so they can help them see the value of the mainstream financial system. “Juntos Avanzamos is not just about helping people afford a car, or even a home, it’s much more than that,” said Cus Arteaga, LVCU’s Board Chairman. “And the acceptance of this designation and the raising of this flag signifies that this credit union is much more than just a financial institution.”

“Financial inclusion is one of our main priorities and our newest designation as a Juntos Avanzamos credit union recognizes our overall commitment to serving a demographic that makes up over 80% of our community’s population,” said LVCU President and CEO, Suzy Fonseca. Juntos Avanzamos “serves as a beacon of hope for those of us that have been shut out of mainstream financial services.”

Credit unions that receive the designation go through a rigorous application process to show they are truly ready to serve Hispanic consumers. These credit unions can then use it to show their community that they understand their needs. Juntos Avanzamos was created by the Cornerstone Credit Union League for credit unions in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. They later partnered with Coopera and the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions to take the program national. Forty credit unions have received the designation. Adding LVCU to the list was a natural fit. “Lower Valley Credit Union embodies the spirit of this initiative,” said Pablo DeFilippi, VP of Membership and Business Development for the Federation.

The $98 million asset size credit union is based in Yakima County, a rural area known as a great place to grow wine and hops—2011 estimates show that the region produces 77% of the hops grown in the U.S. However, the region faces some serious economic challenges. Nearly 20% of residents live below the poverty line and much of the population depends on work in agriculture, which is seasonal and unsteady. Additionally, 39% of the population is Hispanic, a group underserved by traditional financial institutions.

LVCU has taken an aggressive approach to helping its community grow and thrive. It designed an auto loan program that helped the Hispanic community steer clear of the predatory Buy Here, Pay Here car lots that have long been the only option for so many consumers. The credit union has seen loans grow by 14.4% annually and loan losses drop to .0024%. Membership growth has been an amazing 16.61% in a time when small and medium credit unions have struggled to increase membership.

Additionally, LVCU created a citizenship program, Semillas de Oportunidad, with five key partners: OneAmerica, the Washington New Americans program, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, La Casa Hogar, and Nuestra Casa. Working together, this partnership is focused on reaching the immigrant community, educating them about the citizenship process, reviewing potential legal issues, and completing and submitting citizenship documents. Since the program’s inception in 2014, more than 300 consumers have completed the pathway to citizenship. Both of these efforts were supported by a $1.6 million CDFI grant.

Although these initiatives have been successful for the credit union, the hard work LCVU has done to include and support the Hispanic community isn’t just business—it’s personal. As Fonseca said, “Overcoming adversity is a way of life in our valley… Many of us, including myself, are first generation Americans. Many of us, including myself, were or are migrant farm workers. Many of us, including myself, grew up speaking Spanish. When we look in the mirror every morning we look into the eyes of our membership—we understand that we are them and they are us—nothing more and nothing less.”

The Northwest Credit Union Association is proud to see that one of our own credit unions has received this designation. “The Juntos Avanzamos program is one very important program bringing financial services to more American residents, seeing what immigrants and new Americans need to do to make sure they have the financial services these credit unions provide,” said NWCUA President and CEO Troy Stang. Other credit unions that are committed to the service of this community are encouraged to learn more and apply.

Questions about this story? Contact Lynn Heider: 503.350.2225, lheider@nwcua.org.