Friday, December 14, 2007

Latino credit union is coming to Forsyth


By Richard Craver
JOURNAL REPORTER

A financial institution geared toward Hispanic consumers said yesterday that it plans to enter the Forsyth County market in the spring.

Latino Community Credit Union, based in Durham, is one of the nation’s largest minority credit unions, with more than $55 million in total assets and 51,000 members.

The credit union is reviewing branch options in Forsyth, particularly in the Walkertown area, where the biggest concentration of Hispanic residents live, said Angel Romero, its marketing director.

The credit union has branches in Charlotte, Durham, Fayetteville, Greensboro and Raleigh. Romero said that there are plans to add a second branch in Charlotte and a second branch in Wake County.

“We have a lot of members using services at the Greensboro branch, so the new branch will be more convenient for them,” Romero said. “There’s also a higher percentage of Latinos in Forsyth County than in Guilford County as well.”

Many area banks and credit unions have tried, with mixed success, to attract Hispanic consumers with their financial-literacy and educational services. Financial institutions overall have struggled to connect with Hispanics, including Mexican immigrants to the Carolinas who lack knowledge of the U.S. banking system or are wary of banks and credit unions from an identification perspective.

One advantage for Latino Community in reaching Hispanic consumers is that it does not require a Social Security number for opening an account. A U.S. tax-identification number, known as an ITIN, is required. It can be obtained by providing official identification issued by the U.S. or foreign governments, such as a passport, driver’s license or birth certificate.

“By understanding the needs of the Latino community and providing services such as bilingual officers, we will be successful in attracting members in the Winston-Salem area,” Romero said.

Latino Community has an opportunity to fill a financial void in the local Hispanic community if it can dependably provide large loans, said Maria Sanchez-Boudy, the executive director of the Hispanic Arts Initiative of Winston-Salem and a financial consultant to the Hispanic community.

“I’m a firm believer that you can get the Hispanic market if you know how to serve it,” Sanchez-Boudy said. “The credit union’s flexibility on identification will help, and there is a growing number of Hispanic Realtors that it could gain business from.”

Part of Latino Community’s expansion was aided by the awarding Wednesday of $500,000 in grants and $5 million in a low-interest-rate investment loan from the Wachovia Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Both groups provide money to the Opportunity Finance Network. Romero said that the credit union will use the $5 million to provide loans to low-income households.

It’s not the first time that a large grant has given Latino Community a financial boost. Duke University committed in June 2006 to deposit up to $5 million over five years to help Latino Community provide mortgage products in Durham County.

■ Richard Craver can be reached at 727-7376 or at rcraver@wsjournal.com.

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Latino Community Credit Union
• FOUNDED: February 2000

• HEADQUARTERS: Durham

• BRANCHES: Charlotte, Durham, Fayetteville, Greensboro, Raleigh

• TOTAL ASSETS: $55.4 million

• MEMBERSHIP: 51,000

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