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Equity is Empathy: Why Credit Unions Need a Multicultural Marketing Strategy

Edgar Hernandez joins The Remarkable Credit Union

Why is it important for a credit union to adopt a multicultural marketing strategy? Perhaps more importantly, what does that even mean? Edgar Hernandez, Senior Multicultural Strategy Manager at CUNA Mutual Group, is well equipped to answer these questions.

He joins the podcast to talk about what credit unions are doing well when it comes to multicultural marketing; how to use data to better serve diverse audiences; and the ways in which an effective multicultural marketing is strategy, just like any marketing strategy, hinges on listening to your members’ needs, rather than assuming one-size-fits-all solutions.

Key Takeaways

  • In the years to come, people of color will only play a bigger role in the success of credit unions. The proportion of people of color in America has doubled since 1980, going from 20% to 40%. In order to accommodate the needs of this quickly growing demographic, the best credit unions have always been intentional about growing a competency in multicultural marketing, rather than trying to shoehorn everyone under a single marketing strategy.
  • Understanding the nuances (based on data!) of different demographics is just as important as making people of color a marketing priority. For instance, when there was room to only list two beneficiaries on life insurance forms, there was a huge spike in call center activity from African Americans, who were anxious about those in their families who would miss out. CMG bumped this up to four, and the calls around this problem stopped coming in nearly as frequently.
  • Equity is about empathy. The savviest, most curious credit unions will go beyond members’ race, gender orientation, ability, religion, creed, etc., to learn about each other’s background and find common ground. While nothing is guaranteed, this is the best method for bringing us together, as well as challenging our own views and biases.

Read the full transcript:

Cameron Madill: Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Remarkable Credit Union Podcast. We created our podcast to help credit union leaders think outside of the box about community impact, technology, and marketing strategy. Each episode we bring on expert guests from inside and outside of the industry for conversations about innovation. Our goal, as always, is to challenge your preconceptions about business as usual and provide you with actionable takeaways so you can grow your membership, improve the financial health of your cooperative, and magnify the positive impact that you are making in your community.

Cameron Madill: Today’s big question: What are the opportunities and the pitfalls of marketing to multicultural audiences for credit unions? In a highly polarized age, when does it come off as insulting and tokenism? And when is it authentic and an amplifier of your success?

Cameron Madill: All right. Today I am very excited to welcome my friend, Edgar Hernandez. Edgar is the only… and maybe I’m wrong about that… Senior Multicultural Strategy Manager with CUNA Mutual Group. Fascinating and multi-talented guy. He’s an avid tango dancer, and as he reminded me just before we started this call, it was two years ago to this day that he stayed at my house in Portland where he was competing in a tango competition. And Edgar is also the proud father of three amazing kids, most notably of a seven-month-old who is already playing soccer, which blew my mind.

Cameron Madill: All right, Edgar! Thanks for joining us.

Edgar Hernandez: Thanks, Cameron. Thank you. And thanks for inviting me and having this opportunity to speak with the audience. I’m looking forward to it. So yes, it has been two years, and I wish I was there nearby so we can have a face-to-face conversation. But instead, we’re doing this virtually. So you know, I’m happy to share my thoughts on this topic.

Edgar Hernandez: And there is another Senior Multicultural Manager! We have a very small team. A VP of Multicultural and Strategy, whom you have met, Eric Hansing. And my colleague is Opal Tomashevska, and myself. So that’s the three of us.

Cameron Madill: Awesome. Yeah, I know you guys are a great team. I was really impressed with Eric when I met him at the recent Filene event on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Cameron Madill: Well, I’ve often heard that in the credit union space when something is happening, it makes sense to peek behind the curtain. And you’ll often find CUNA Mutual Group there in some form or another. And I know you guys are big movers. Maybe not always big promoters in the sense that other folks are, but that you’re quietly funding and doing a lot of work. And so I’d love to just start with… Tell us about the CMG Multicultural Center of Expertise. What do you guys do? And why did CMG start this effort in the first place?

Edgar Hernandez: Yeah. So let me begin by saying… Maybe some of you folks in the audience don’t know, but a little bit about CUNA Mutual, if that’s okay? Can I do this aside for the organization?

Cameron Madill: Yeah, of course!

Edgar Hernandez: And then I’ll go on and talk about the MCOE. So next year, CUNA Mutual will have been around for 85 years. So that’s basically when my grandma was a teenager, or Franklin Roosevelt was president. Right? So we have been around for a while. And we’re based here in Madison, Wisconsin but operate nationally and in the Caribbean. So we do have operations in Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago. So roughly, we serve about 30 million consumers mostly through credit unions. And we have about 3000 current employees.

Edgar Hernandez: So you’re correct. We’re pretty quiet, which is a little bit surprising given our stature and our size. But you know that why I joined this firm, Cameron, is because I really like their mission. And I think in five words… I don’t like to give the whole spiel, multi-paragraph mission and vision. But I really like helping people achieve a national security, right? So I was really drawn to that.

Edgar Hernandez: Now I joined the Multicultural Center of Expertise about two years ago, and that’s when it started, really. Eric Hansing put this team together. It is relatively new. And the reason why it was created, I think simply, it was a recognition that demographics in the U.S. are rapidly changing.

Edgar Hernandez: So let me give you a personal example: When I came to this country from Mexico in the mid-80s, the population of people of color was around 20%. Okay? Fast forward today, that’s roughly 40%. So it’s doubled in the past 30 years, and it’s expected to double in the next 20 years.

Edgar Hernandez: So CUNA Mutual has recognized that this need and urgency to meet the demand. And we have a long way to go. I think we, just like a lot of credit unions, just trying to understand, grasp, and move fast. But like I said at the beginning, it is just three individuals. And there’s, I would say, three main goal objectives.

Edgar Hernandez: The first one is to gather insights. We serve a lot of consumers. We have a lot of those consumers. We are able to slice and dice the data different ways. By age, by demographics, race, a lot of financial preferences. Income, you name it.

Edgar Hernandez: Then once we understand those insights, then we put them to work. And we call that “activation.” So we work with a lot of our internal units. So we don’t specifically work directly with credit unions. But our business units, whether it’s our insurance side or lending wealth management areas, they work with the credit unions. So we help them figure out, “Okay. How can we serve consumers better?”

Edgar Hernandez: And then the third piece is amplification. So how do we share those stories? How do we share our own stories, and trials, and tribulations? And how can we cross-fertilize what we’ve learned from other credit unions and share those with the credit unions that we serve?

Edgar Hernandez: Now, we have a lot of great partners. As you probably know, we work with the Filene Institute, the African-American Credit Union Coalition, Inclusiv… which changed its name a couple years ago, or last year, actually. It used to be the Federation of Community Development Credit Unions. Now it’s called Inclusiv, and they have a great program called the Juntos Avanzamos Program. And then Coopera. So these are just some entities that we work with, and there’s a lot more that we are constantly exchanging ideas and efforts.

Edgar Hernandez: And, I mean, we couldn’t do this alone. Right? It’s just an effort that every credit union is out there trying to meet consumers where they’re at. So that’s basically what we do. And my role is just basically connect the dots and tell those stories, those powerful stories.

Cameron Madill: Cool. So I think that’s a great high-level overview. And the reasoning all makes sense to me. But I’d love to maybe hear a little more, specifically about what specifically have you learned in your efforts? Of both how CMG and how credit unions are doing and serving diverse audiences, as well as how they could be better.

Edgar Hernandez: Yeah. So Community Mutual started a D & I department. So I want to differentiate the difference between a Diversity and Inclusion department and our department. So the D & I department, it focuses on place. Diversity inside the workplace. Whereas our team focuses on the marketplace, so we’re consumer-facing.

Edgar Hernandez: But either way, either way you look at it, it’s all about the journey. Right? So we talk to dozens of credit unions every year. And what I’ve seen is that they fall into three broad categories. Right?

Edgar Hernandez: There’s credit unions that are just starting. Right? They’ve heard some things. They’ve noticed that the membership is starting to change a little bit. They’re curious about it. They just don’t know where to go from there. That’s one group.

Edgar Hernandez: The second group, there’s credit unions that are catching up. They recognize this. They know that their membership is shrinking. They are seeing a lot more multiculturalism in their communities. And they’re playing catch-up. They’re going to say, “Okay. Well, how do we recruit more people that reflect the market? How do we create products that meet those needs? Things like ITIN Loans. How to accept and get around some of our own processes? Because a lot of times, we get in our own way. And I’ll give some examples later as to how we at CUNA Mutual, we have gotten in there already. So that’s the second group, the ones that are catching up.

Edgar Hernandez: And then the third ones are actually the ones that are leading. They have been doing this for a while. They’ve done this organically. They’ve learned some lessons. But they’re growing it really well. And I can think of a couple of credit unions that are in this realm. One of them is the Latino Community Credit Union headed by Luis Pastor out of North Carolina. They’re really seeing tremendous growth in the past five years. The other one is the Seattle Credit Union led by Richard Romero.

Edgar Hernandez: And the thing that was common is that they have been intentional. Right? They have recruited people that really understand the market. They have doubled down in their marketing. They have created products to meet their needs. And you know what, Cameron? It’s not always about translation. That’s the one thing that people or credit unions ask. It’s like, “Well, do we have to translate things in Spanish?” If they’re serving a Spanish-speaking market. And oftentimes we have data. We have our own data that we can look at any credit union and say, “Of the membership that you serve, what percentage actually of the Hispanics prefer Spanish?”

Edgar Hernandez: As you know, it is not a homogeneous group. Myself, I feel comfortable in those two languages. In fact, when [inaudible 00:08:31] all, and sometimes they see, “[Spanish 00:08:32],” or “[Spanish 00:08:33].” I cannot do a quick estimate in my head. It’s like, “Is the line longer in the English-speaking queue or the Spanish-speaking queue?” And so I can express, too, if I think that I’m going to get faster service when somebody speaks Spanish.

Edgar Hernandez: And I think those credit unions that are on the forefront, they recognize. They realize, “You know what? Instead of a translate documents, why don’t we get somebody that’s bilingual?” Because, after all, who reads the piece of paper? Who reads the document? Very few people do.

Cameron Madill: Yeah. I don’t. That’s a good point.

Edgar Hernandez: Exactly! So why don’t, if you trust the person in front of you, say, “Do I believe what they’re telling me? Do I believe that they have the best interest at heart?” And I think that goes, the same thing, for our company. Right? We’re in the Midwest. We don’t have a lot of diversity here in Madison. And so we are constantly trying to recruit people from different walks of life, different races and ethnicities. And they ask the same question: “Why should I join? Why should I join CUNA Mutual?”

Edgar Hernandez: And we’ve been very adamant about creating this program where we bring in speakers, where we have employer resource groups that are there to help employees acclimate and be a support. So that’s one thing that we’ve seen.

Edgar Hernandez: Now, again, I say a journey. It’s a constant nudge, Cameron. We take two steps forward, one step back. And people in the organizations are at different stages of the growth. You’ll get resistance, either out of fear or out of ignorance. So we have to cultivate a dialogue. We have to create space.

Edgar Hernandez: So that’s, in a nutshell, that’s what we’re seeing in terms of credit unions. And us, we look at ourselves in the mirror.

Cameron Madill: I’m a very curious person, as you know. And I know you all have some really… You have done a lot of just, as you’ve talked about, the insights piece. Gathering insights. And it seems to me that you have your fingers on data that very few of us do. Can you share any of the insights you’ve found around how just unintentional policies or structures can impact a specific group positively or negatively?

Edgar Hernandez: Yeah. So this is kind of what led to the formalization of this group. So I’ll tell you a story. About three years ago, Eric Hansing, our VP, he was looking at the data. And he had been in direct mail for many years. He has been at the company for over 20 years. And he decided, he said, “Well, let me take a look at response rates by race and ethnicity.”

Edgar Hernandez: Because overall, we know the aggregate. We have a certain response rate when we send direct mail campaigns. How many people fill out the application and send it back, and all. So on and so forth.

Edgar Hernandez: So what he found… And he was very surprised. Well, we looked, and we send millions of direct mail pieces every year. Basically a good representation of the U.S. population. So when we looked at the data, he got back. He found out that there was one group that responded to direct mail twice as any other group. And we found out it was the African-Americans.

Edgar Hernandez: Now, this was surprising, because he couldn’t believe that. And to his own admission, he had some biases when he began this because one of the things that he knew was that there was a correlation between income and direct mail response rates. So the lower the income, the higher you respond to some direct mail campaigns. This is in general, right?

Edgar Hernandez: So obviously his mind went to, “Well, some of these people, they’re probably very poor. They probably can’t afford it, so they’re responding to that.” So his next step was to look at income and see if you take income and compare people of the same income, do you see African-Americans responding at twice the rate?

Edgar Hernandez: And what he found was sort of surprising. He’s like, “Yes!” Regardless of whether you’re making under $20,000 a year in household income, over $150,000 a year, African-Americans were responding at twice the rate. Now that is crazy. Because in direct mail, even a 5% higher response, that’s a lot of opportunity right there. But twice the rate was insane! And so we started to pay a lot more attention as to how these consumers… That was just accidentally. We didn’t even do this intentionally.

Edgar Hernandez: Now, that was sort of a positive news. However, we also discovered on the back end that we’re not retaining those consumers. In other words, they were not making the payments that we wanted to make. In our industry, we call that lapsing. Right? They were lapsing.

Edgar Hernandez: So we started to explore that path and found out through other research that multicultural consumers, when it comes to making payments, they generally prefer to make payments using things like debit card, cash, money orders. Now think about this, Cameron. Those are not the payment preferences that a 3.5 billion company typically promotes, right? What do we promote? We like to get your payment via a check, direct deposit, or credit card.

Edgar Hernandez: And so we found out that we were getting in our own way. These consumers wanted to pay for these policies, but we were not making it very easy for them. So the things that we’ve learned through statistics is that failures typically result in the wrong assumptions about reality. Credit unions assumed that the market was homogenous, that the Hispanics wanted to read documents in Spanish. And it depends on when it came to ending, that maybe consumers, they don’t have the credit scores, so they don’t prefer a loan.

Edgar Hernandez: But when institutions like Latino Community Credit Union started to challenge these notions… They started to challenge the way they underwrite… They found out that their risk of those loans are much lower. So some things are able to look at through the data. There’s another story that I can share later on.

Edgar Hernandez: But we have to check our own biases and challenge ourselves, and say, “Okay. This is one perspective. What can be another interpretation of the data?” And so in our world when we sit down and we talk about all these things that we’re seeing, we say, “What could be a hypothesis?” And we are basically taking the scientific method to figure out, “Is this a hypothesis that we can test? What are our blind spots? How can we be making the wrong assumptions?”

Edgar Hernandez: So we’ve constantly doing that. And that’s the really exciting part, because part of my job, I think, is myth busting. So…

Cameron Madill: Great example. So I’d love to hear a little bit about… I have a friend who’s fond of saying… She’s a very successful, kind of strategic thinker, of… There’s all these tensions in life, and often we struggle with them. But often, it’s just helpful to say, “Hey. There’s a tension between A and B here. Let’s just call it out and admit that it’s not going to be one or the other.”

Cameron Madill: And I think one of the big tensions in, I guess I’ll say broadly, multicultural marketing is… which is actually, I guess, everything credit unions do… is it’s part smart business. And as you said, the percentage of people of color doubling in the last approximately 40 years, you can see spending powers of all kinds of different ethnic groups, and so on and so forth.

Cameron Madill: But it’s also part social equity type work. And there’s an interesting tension there. And actually, all credit unions have that, in any case, of serving the underserved versus doing what is perceived to be the best thing. The easy, most profitable potential members. And so I think we need to be careful… And I’m sure you guys, obviously, deal with this all the time… Of pretending that serving multicultural audiences is an easy thing to do, and it always leads to business results.

Cameron Madill: So I’m wondering if if you can share maybe a little bit about successes and failures. Because as you said, as you outlined, those credit unions that… Are they just becoming aware? Or are they catching up? Or are they leading? We’re all at a different spot. And so maybe hearing those will help folks to figure out how to take the next right step for their specific credit union.

Edgar Hernandez: Yeah. So what I’ll say to that, Cameron, is that there is a tension. Right? There’s a balance. And this strategy is always about trade offs. And I think one thing that we have to recognize is trying to figure out quickly what we don’t know. Right? And so by understanding, there’s always going to be a series of assumptions that go back to that, and trade offs. Like, “Should I pursue this market?” And, “What are my biases? We don’t have any credit history,” for example, “And so how am I going to make a determination?”

Edgar Hernandez: And so I think maybe a savvy way to do this, of course, is to do this gradually. To enter into the space. To say, “All right. What can we learn at the beginning?” One of the things that I’ve seen credit unions do is jump all in and say, “Oh. You’ve got to figure out this market.”

Edgar Hernandez: When we say, for example, let’s pivot a little bit… Asian market. Right? Well, what does that mean? Asian is such a huge continent. You got China. You got India. You got Korea. You got Filipinos. And if you look at some of the behavioral aspects, there’s different values there. Some of those cultures value money over maybe family. Other ones value fun over their health. There’s just mix of things that we have to be able to peel the onion and figure out what makes sense for their specific market. Right? So if there’s tension, I think the path to follow is prioritization.

Edgar Hernandez: And so we ourselves… I’m Hispanic, and when I joined the team, I’m like, “Okay. Let’s go after the Hispanic market!” But I just told you, we had just uncovered this opportunity to serve African-American markets. First of all, because it’s the right thing to do. As you mentioned, the social good. To be able to say, “All right. We know this as people, that African-American consumers have this better understanding and affinity towards life insurance. Why is that?” Okay. So we don’t just stop at, “Oh. They care about it.” But, “Why?”

Edgar Hernandez: So historically, African-American consumers, they see that as wealth transfer. They also know that in their communities, the perception and their reality of risk for their own lives is a lot higher. There’s also, if you go way back into history, the way that African communities celebrated life… There’s a lot of more honor and celebratory aspects to that culture.

Edgar Hernandez: Now, if you turn to the Hispanic market, death? That is a little bit of a taboo subject. You don’t talk about death unless it’s Día de los Muertos, and then we celebrate it as a happy time. But when it comes to, “Oh. Yeah. I need to buy a product,” it’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy, a fear of that. Now, again, I’m making generalizations. Because it’s not always about that.

Edgar Hernandez: But if talk to my dad, he had a heart surgery a couple years ago. And he doesn’t have life insurance. And the doctor, right before he goes into the operating room, he’s like, “Well, your son is here. Would you like to sign his documents to say about what happens?” And my dad, of course, he didn’t want to do that because he felt that he was going to be… Almost like if I signed his documents, I may be not helping my chances to survive. It’s kind of this fear, this sort of irrational fear that we’re seeing.

Edgar Hernandez: And so you have to understand where people are at. So as an organization, yes, we have to do good. Credit unions have to do good. And also, of course, they have to survive. You were a part of that credit union development program, that executive program, where they talked about the tension between doing good, doing well. And you do have to manage both.

Edgar Hernandez: Now, that said, it’s not a one-size-fits-all. The products that we have today may have to be reconfigured. The amounts of life insurance that we pay out, maybe they need to be smaller. Because maybe it’s just enough to cover for funeral expenses. It doesn’t have to cover a hundred, two hundred thousand dollars. Because, number one, maybe they can’t afford it. And maybe that’s not what’s right for them.

Edgar Hernandez: And so we have a product which was really intriguing to me in the Caribbean, okay? I mentioned that at the beginning. It’s called a “family plan.” And it’s a product that we don’t have here in the states. What it is is that you can insure up to six people in a family. So grandparents, parents, and children. So two, two, and two. You have to choose which of the two in-laws you want to select. You can insure them all. So that’s an interesting conversation in and of itself. But-

Cameron Madill: I’d insure my in-laws. I like them.

Edgar Hernandez: It can be your parents also, right? It can be your parents, or your wife’s parents. But one policy. And you think about it, what is happening in the United States? In the United States, you’re seeing an increase in multi-generational households. It used to be before World War II, a lot more people were living together in a house, right? Multiple generations.

Edgar Hernandez: And then it dropped. After World War II, people started to become more wealthy. They started buying their own homes. People would leave the house, and it dropped. And now, in the passing 15 years or so, it’s going back up again. So now we have about 25. One in four households have multiple generations.

Edgar Hernandez: So what it means is that people are bringing their resources together. So a product like this family plan makes sense, but guess what? We don’t have a product like that in the United States. Why not? Well, maybe because for a long time, we have historically thought about products as just, “Well, just covering your spouse!” And maybe covering your children. That’s about it. Your one or two kids.

Edgar Hernandez: So we have to also understand what are the products that need to be reinvented or created to meet the piece of the market today. Does that help?

Cameron Madill: Mm-hmm (affirmative) Great examples! You covered a whole lot of territory there. I’m just reflecting on it. I like your comment about, “What does it mean to serve the Asian market?” And it’s like, wow. That is literally over half of humanity.

Edgar Hernandez: Yeah. Exactly.

Cameron Madill: And yeah. Big differences. I think to me that really highlights what I think one of the biggest opportunity is, with… There’s the social impact side, which is incredibly important. But also from an opportunity standpoint is to really know your members, or your potential members in your community, and then really achieve a focus strategy rather than being all things to all people.

Cameron Madill: Because I think, as you said, it’s probably right to say that, “Hey. We exist to serve Asian-Americans,” is probably not focused enough to really make a difference in the market.

Edgar Hernandez: The other thing I was going to add, Cameron, is it’s interesting because when credit unions or any company, any business does this calculations of profitable customers, there’s this notion of the “customer lifetime value,” which you probably have heard. Right? And I’ve looked at the formula, the way you suck in academia, and business, and one of the things that it rarely incorporates is the number of referrals that a customer brought. And I’ve done some studies on this.

Edgar Hernandez: You ask any financial advisor, any agent, and they’ll tell you, “Who’s your best customer?” Like, “Well, the customer that’s got the highest policy, that has the higher number of products with me.” But they rarely say, “The customer that brought in five or six other members.” They know a lot of these are word-of-mouth and trust.

Edgar Hernandez: And so what I would say is when people or companies are exploring this market, they don’t see the totality. They don’t see the networks and the word-of-mouth influence that one family alone can bring. If you serve them well, whether they’re Asian, or Hispanic, or African-American, they will tell other people. And the people will come to you.

Edgar Hernandez: And guess what? I’ve heard numbers of people say, “We have this woman in our credit union. She’s bilingual! And her name is [Juanita 00:23:08]. And there’s a line of people outside of her office that want to just talk to Juanita!” And I’m saying, “Well, why don’t you hire somebody else that is like Juanita?” Right?

Edgar Hernandez: I suppose that it’s because people just want to talk to them, and that’s what loyalty and relationships are all about. It’s not just about having products. Products alone? You can have a great product, but if you don’t have somebody that really can instill the trust, you’re not going to have a business.

Cameron Madill: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Trust is always the foundation.

Cameron Madill: I’d love to chat. Diversity, equity, and inclusion is a concept that has been core to a number of groups that I’ve been in for many years, and I’m just starting to hear it become more common in the credit union space. And it’s huge. I mean, it’s such a big, complicated topic that I think sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees.

Cameron Madill: But I’d love to talk. I think at the core, it sounds like… As you said, the work that you do is about helping people to achieve financial security and making sure that credit unions are creating opportunities and doing the right things, both for themselves and for their members. For all the folks who are out there who could be a part of their community.

Cameron Madill: So I’m curious. If we just talk equity on a really high level, can you share… This is a huge question. But I’m going to go for it, Edgar. That’s why I like you. You always have smart answers. What does this look like from an employee standpoint? Because there’s an inner journey. What does it look like from a member experience standpoint? So just if I show up at the branch, or call into the call center, or whatever other channel. Go to the website. And then lastly, what does it look like from a product standpoint? Because I at least think of it at a high level. You’ve got policies, you have your culture, and you have your products And they all can have a huge impact in creating either an equitable or inequitable experience for both employees and members.

Edgar Hernandez: Yeah. So it is a big question. And let me just take a step back and say, first of all, when we talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion, I have to give kudos to Maurice Smith. Right? He’s the CEO of Local Government Credit Union. For proposing D & I as the eighth cooperative principle. And I happened to meet Maurice Smith maybe three weeks ago, four weeks ago in LA. And he’s a very charismatic individual. Very inspirational individual, and he’s one of my new heroes for this year.

Edgar Hernandez: And when my kid is asking me, he is like, “What does that mean? What does it mean that they added an eighth cooperative principle?” And I said to them, “It’s like adding another superhero to the Justice League. To the Economic Justice League.” And so I just want to thank him for advancing this movement.

Edgar Hernandez: And you’re right. We’re seeing that talk a lot more. So the way DEI, and the analogy that I have heard is they talk about diversity is being invited to the party. Right? Inclusion is being asked to dance. And then nobody has offered up, “What about E? What does equity stand for?” And I thought of one. It’s like, what about equity is being asked to organize a party? Okay? Because the power structure, that’s where it happens, is being able to be participatory in the decision making.

Edgar Hernandez: And so I say that because we talk about equity from an employee perspective is, “Did they feel heard? Did they feel that they can contribute? Do they feel that they can bring themselves to work? Their full selves to work?” And if they’re not, we just had a speaker yesterday as part of our DEI learning series. We bring in speakers probably about once a month. And her name is Annahid Dashtgard. I don’t know if you’ve heard of her. She is a part of Anima A-N-I-M-A Leadership out of Toronto. Yeah, I think it’s Toronto.

Edgar Hernandez: But she talked about equity. And she has a question about, “How do you know when you belong?” What are the signs, right? When you walk into a room, you know that you are being accepted. You know you belong. Do the people smile at you, perhaps? Do they welcome you? Did they look at you? Do they ask you for your feedback?

Edgar Hernandez: And so one of the things that we don’t want to do is we can promote and say, “Hey. Yeah. We’re diverse!” But then half the people feel that they’re not included. And so for the employees, I mentioned earlier, we have employer resource groups. All sorts. We have modern family employee resource group. African-American. Asian-American. Allies. People with disabilities. Employees with disabilities. LGBTQ. So we kind of want a safe space and make sure that people voice their opinions.

Edgar Hernandez: And one of the things that I noticed when I joined this organization, Cameron, is that people were willing to talk about some of their deficiencies. We had somebody, a leader, said, “You know what? I suffer from anxiety. I suffered from anxiety, and this is how I overcame it.” And so I really feel that when you can say those things, and you feel comfortable in an organization saying, “This is something that I’m struggling with,” and you’re not afraid. Right? You’re not going to be cataloged or put into a bucket and say, “Well, let’s just not invite that person.” So it’s very open-minded. So that’s from an employee perspective.

Edgar Hernandez: From a member experience, I go back to, “How do we change our processes, and procedures, and systems to accommodate?” And so let me give you an example about equity. So I’m just relying again. So along the example of African-Americans. We also found out, just as they were responding to direct mail, that they were also calling our call center about two times more often than anybody else. So it’s like, “What’s going on there? Do African-Americans just like to call our call center and talk to people? What is going on?”

Edgar Hernandez: So we drove to our call center. We interviewed our folks, and we said, “What are you seeing? What are you hearing? What are the things?” And one of the things that came up was, “Well, they wanted to know about their beneficiaries.” It’s like, “Well, what do you mean?” Well, when we send our customers a welcome letter, once they buy our product, we say, “Welcome Edgar Hernandez to Community Mutual. Here are your beneficiaries.”

Edgar Hernandez: And so our system had only room for two beneficiaries, which was of course a result of legacy. You have a spouse and a child, or two children. But what we know from the African-American consumer is that their definition of family can be a lot broader than what we think about family. It can be a cousin. It could be an aunt. You may not even be a relative. And because of some history, they may decide to embrace and take on somebody else as a family. So they may have four or five beneficiaries.

Edgar Hernandez: So then we thought, “Oh, okay! So maybe we need to change that. And that’s something that we can easily do.” So we went back. We worked with a team to change the number. This is something as simple as changing the number of beneficiaries listed on a life insurance policy! We went from two to four.

Edgar Hernandez: Now I thought, “Okay. Well, I don’t know what impact that’s going to do. I mean, people are still going to call.” And we get thousands of calls every year just because they wanted to verify that their beneficiary was there.

Edgar Hernandez: Now think about it. If we only listed two beneficiaries, think about grandma. Grandma Smith, Maurice Smith’s grandmother, said, “Hey. What happened to my other beneficiaries? Where are they?” And we’d say to them, “Oh. Trust us. We got this. They’re in our system.” She’s not going to care about that. She wants to have a document.

Edgar Hernandez: By doing that, our calls declined. Not 5%. Not 20%. Not 50%. They dropped 75% in a month after we instituted it all. Or this just-

Cameron Madill: Wow! I mean, that’s got to be so much. I mean, that’s so much money saved for you all. And I also think whenever I deal with financial documentation, my anxiety, it spikes. And especially when I see something and I’m like, “Ah, I don’t know what this means.” That seems like such a great example of a mutually beneficial shift, right?

Edgar Hernandez: Absolutely. It’s a win-win because the customer doesn’t have to call now to say, “Hey. What happened to my beneficiaries?” We don’t utilize call center time to answer something that we could have worried about. So the cost savings? Customer experience? Here’s the beauty of it all. This is what I really like.

Edgar Hernandez: When we looked at the cost… Because, again, it was not only African-Americans that were calling, right? We have millions of customers. The calls for beneficiary-related questions also dropped for Whites, for Hispanics, for Asians, and everybody else by the same amount.

Edgar Hernandez: So that was what we call the “curb cut.” You know those cuts that you see in sidewalks that were originally created for people with disabilities, right? It also helped those individuals that were in wheelchairs or in bicycles. So it’s something that we were really… And we got an award for that as a result of uncovering this insight and this process change. So equity is about really looking at that and realizing that when you design for the outliers, for those people that are less represented, by nature, you also benefit other people that are part of the majority.

Cameron Madill: Yeah. The famous, if you’ve heard it, the, “Designing for the extremes,” concept that OXO, among others… OXO, the kitchenware company that’s really famous for, “Make the garlic smasher so that it could be used by an eight-year-old child or a 90-year-old grandma.” And if you do that, then everyone in the middle… You end up with just these delightful, highly usable tools. I think OXO have got such a powerful concept of designing for a group that is really not kind of the generic middle. And just what kind of insights pull up.

Edgar Hernandez: Right? And you know, I agree with that, Cameron. And prior to coming to CUMA Mutual, I was working for a design firm. I was in new product development. And the biggest lesson there is, “How do you get empathy?” Right?

Edgar Hernandez: And I think at the end of the day, wanting to really get into understanding that… Equity is not equality. Right? You don’t give the same exact to everybody. Some people may need more of something than others. Some people may not even need what you’re offering.

Edgar Hernandez: Let’s say if you’re in a room and you’re giving everybody a compliment for a job well done. Some people may want the recognition. Some people may want, “Hey. Give me a gift card!” Some people may say, “Write me a letter of accommodation!” I don’t know. But if you give everybody the same thing, you’re not going to hit their cord.

Edgar Hernandez: And so empathy is really, I think, at the heart of this. And I think that’s where we struggle, because sometimes we don’t put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes. So it’s so hard. You know? It’s so far removed from our reality. And I’m constantly having to challenge myself. It’s like, “What are my own biases?”

Edgar Hernandez: You know, I think one thing about biases is that if you think you’re not biased, that’s already a bad sign. Because we’re all biased! I looked it up the other day. I think there’s 105 cataloged biases. I think some of the work by Daniel Kahneman, right? Who takes it fast and low in terms of behavioral economics. They point to at least 100 biases. And so it’s just something that our mind does, and we have to be very vigilant as to how we process our world and what kind of assumptions we make.

Cameron Madill: Yeah. That’s a great point. And there’s a great book called Blind Spot about that. And for those of you who are interested, you could just Google. I think it’s Harvard Implicit Bias Project, and there’s a whole bunch of tests. And I think the basic point is if we didn’t have biases, we could never get anything done. If everything we did in our life we stepped back and said, “Let’s gather the data. Let’s hear everyone’s opinions. Let’s consider how my experiences might be different.” We’d never get anything done. So it’s actually just a natural part of the human experience, and the opportunity to create a more equitable world, which is a better place for everyone… Just comes from being aware of that, and being open to learning more, and questioning those.

Edgar Hernandez: Right. Yep. I couldn’t agree more.

Cameron Madill: I’ve got a segue, though. I love that phrase. Somethings I think D & I work is super important, but I also feel like it’s so big that it can mean really radically different things. People can hear really different things.

Cameron Madill: Like I remember there was a woman at the Filene event a couple weeks ago who was like, “My boss,” She thinks that he hears, “‘Am I going to lose my job?'” As a straight, white, older man. And I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting.” That’s a very different emotional reaction than what I think that this woman was going for. And it really inhibits good dialogue.

Cameron Madill: So, one, I guess I would say I love that phrase, that “equity is about empathy.” I think that’s a much, on some levels, better framing that maybe feels more welcoming and inclusive to everyone. Spoken as me. If you’ve met me in person, I’m sort of the generic straight, white, male guy who I’m like, “Aw, crap. Am I the problem?” And so I think that just that framing of “equity is about empathy” is great.

Cameron Madill: And then the second one I wanted to ask is what are your thoughts about multicultural marketing when we live in a really politicized age? Immigration. Race. Gender preference. Religion. You know, I had a fascinating conversation just last week with a friend who lives here in Portland with me… And I guess new friend, I didn’t know him that well. And we were out for drinks, and maybe half an hour in he said, “Well one thing that I really don’t like to admit in public is that I’m a Christian.” And I remember just thinking, “Oh, man.” Because it’s clearly a huge part of his identity. It’s very important. A deeply held set of beliefs.

Edgar Hernandez: Huh.

Cameron Madill: So anyway, I feel like I try to walk in as many different groups as possible. And it just seems like, in general, we’re in an age where people are feeling judged. People are feeling not welcomed. They’re feeling uncomfortable. And then social media and all these things just lead to enhancing these really strong automatic reactions that people have, good or bad, about all sorts of topics.

Cameron Madill: If that’s the water that we’re swimming in, right? The parable about asking the fish, “How’s the water?” And the fish saying, “What’s water?” Because they’re so immersed in it. They don’t know. If that’s the water that we’re swimming in, what’s maybe the thoughts you have about multicultural marketing for credit unions? Big and small. Urban and rural. Highly diverse areas. Less diverse areas. Highly religious areas. Less religious areas. The whole gamut. Do you have broad advice for our listeners?

Edgar Hernandez: I’d say that when we talk about multicultural marketing in general, I think multinational companies have been doing this for a long time. Right? They serve multiple countries. Think about the Coca-Colas of the world. The McDonald’s of that. Right? They’ve understood that you can’t have the same approach to the market, because some people in India may prefer their McDonald’s with more spiciness in it.

Edgar Hernandez: I think that they know the trends. They know the opportunity. And I think the credit union industry has a little bit been insulated. They have kind of fallen behind. I think they’re starting to realize that the numbers are changing. But there is still a lot of fear.

Edgar Hernandez: And there’s questions. “How do I serve the market? What if there’s a backlash?” Institutions that I really admire is actually in your neck of the woods. It’s Point West Credit Union. And I really like their tagline: “No matter who you are, you’re a citizen of Point West.”

Cameron Madill: We had a little bit to do with that. That was our work in partnership with them. But yeah, I’ve heard of them.

Edgar Hernandez: Good, good! And I really admire that, because it opens a door. And as you talked about, there’s different perspectives. When we talk about diversity, there’s the stuff that we see like color, gender, or possibly stature, or whatever. But there’s stuff that we don’t see. We didn’t talk about the definitions of things like religion, income, financial literacy.

Edgar Hernandez: And again, our head can really make assumptions. Like you said, we won’t be able to get anywhere if we don’t have biases, because they are shortcuts. I would have to spend as much time.

Edgar Hernandez: But I think that the first step is really to understand the market that you’re serving. I think credit unions have to look around, understand demographics, figure out what is growing. Even though there’s two quiet groups that are growing, you may not even realize that.

Edgar Hernandez: And then bringing people in there. Embodying them. Having the dialogue. I’m constantly on the lookout. I know families here in the community that want to get a loan. Maybe they can’t. Or for whatever reason, maybe their credit is not good. And I’m trying to understand what’s getting in the way. Why can credit unions not open… at least some of them around here… create a program to build credit?

Edgar Hernandez: And so it’s multicultural marketing. And culture I define as not, again, beyond race. Beyond gender preference. Beyond religion. It is really understanding. I am a graduate of UW Madison. I’m a Badger, so I’m in a culture. That’s my culture. I’m a big Badger fan! And so really understanding what are our similarities, I think that’s where to start.

Edgar Hernandez: We are in an era where very much it’s polarized. There’s a lot of tension. There’s a lot of misinformation. One of the stats that I just heard recently when we talk about immigrants, and about the “good” and “bad” immigrants… I think of the “bad hombre,” when that was thrown out there. But if you look at the steps, only 3% of undocumented immigrants have committed a felony, right? The heinous crime. That compares to 6% of the general population. So the media, again, is focusing on this very small group, and they’re exacerbating this issue as if it was something that’s everybody. And so people, again, it’s the easy thing to understand. Right? And people, I don’t think they spend the time to really explore a little more.

Edgar Hernandez: And we have an executive here that he’s a Korean-American. Paul Chung is his name. And he said something very interesting when we had a D & I streak. He said, “I equate this to, in some ways, laziness. People don’t want to get out. They just say, ‘Oh. You’re this? Okay, that’s it. That’s where it stops.'” You’re a curious person, Cameron, so you take it another level. And I think that’s what we owe to ourselves, to be curious about people’s background.

Edgar Hernandez: One of the things that we do here, we have an Inclusion Institute program that only a few employees get to participate in every year. It’s kind of ironic. Only a few, right? Get to participate in the Inclusion Institute. But it’s just we don’t have enough capacity. And so one of the exercises that we do is we each have to write an “I Am From” poem. And “I Am From” is not necessarily “I am from Mexico.” It’s like, “I am from my mother. My grandmother’s Mexican cooking. I am from this broken family.” Whatever it is. And people share some really powerful things.

Edgar Hernandez: But you know what it does? Somewhere in those verses that people write, and it can be as little as a couple minutes, you find, “Oh my god! That person and I have something in common! Both adopted child.” Or, “We both come from this background.” Or, “We both were abused.” Or, “We both were…” Whatever it is. And it just brings people closure.

Edgar Hernandez: And I think we don’t do enough of that. When we ask people, “How’s it going?” “Oh, how are you?” “Good.” And we just keep walking, right? But we don’t really take the time to get to know our fellow brothers and sisters.

Edgar Hernandez: And your friend that you had a meal with… I am also a Christian. I grew up being a Christian. And my own journey has gotten me closer to closure. And again, I go back to empathy. Some people don’t want to talk about that, because it feels like, “Ooh, if I bring this up in the workplace, or I talk about that…” But guess what? One of the most richest conversations. More meaningful conversations have been about faith here in the workplace.

Edgar Hernandez: And the reason why is because we all struggle. We all have struggles, and we all need something to hold onto. Some people have different ways. Maybe they lean on other entities, or maybe they go to tango to find their-

Cameron Madill: Their ritual.

Edgar Hernandez: … Zen moment, right? But for me, it’s my faith and my strength. And I think that when I listen to people and I hear about their struggles, even my fellow employees, and I say, “You know what? I understand you’re going through a tough time. Can I pray for you?” And they’re surprised. They’re like, “Oh. Sure!” And you know-

Cameron Madill: Yeah. Who’s going to say no to that, right?

Edgar Hernandez: … Do you know what I mean? You would be surprised, Cameron, how many times that people are like, “Hey.” And I’d say, “Hey. How is [Grandpa Richard 00:43:21] doing?” And it’s like, “Whoa! You remember that?” I’m like, “Yeah. I mean, I wanted to pray for your grandfather, but I couldn’t remember his name. But I prayed anyway.” They’re like, “Wow!”

Edgar Hernandez: And I think that’s the thing. If we end up focusing on the things that really brings us together, the struggle, and really doing it sincerely… Not because of there’s some other motive, but because we care about our fellow human beings… I think that takes on a different dimension. And that’s something that I’m learning in my own journey. My own diversity, and cultural, and open-mindedness is just share the things that I value, because I might be surprised. Other people might share the same thing.

Cameron Madill: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well-put. Yeah. Share and receive generously. I think we can all move the world forward if we get better at that. Well, this has been a robust conversation. I first met Edgar a couple years ago at the Inclusiv Conference, and he was a guy asking all the really good questions. And I thought, “Oh, I think we’ll become friends.” So I’m not surprised we have had a very full conversation today.

Cameron Madill: I’d love to know just do you have a final take? Is there anything you want to reiterate or anything you didn’t get to that you want to leave with our listeners?

Edgar Hernandez: You know, I would just say, Cameron, thank you for the opportunity. I think I would say that the one thing is challenge your views and your biases. Be your own devil’s advocate. That’s an exercise that will pay off in twofold, threefold. And it will open up possibilities to serve new members. So just be aware of those biases and embrace change and diversity, because it’s a pretty cool thing. So thank you for your time, man!

Cameron Madill: All right. Thanks, my friend. It’s been great having you on!

Edgar Hernandez: You bet. You bet. Take care!