Celebrating International Credit Union Day
Notes from the Field: Financial Inclusion Transcends Borders
Part 3: Dominican Republic
With over 2 million Hispanics of Dominican origin in the United States, this community is the fifth largest Hispanic group in the nation The Dominican foreign-born population has increased by 33% in the last decade. While the Dominican population has settled in various places across the country, with areas of concentration in three major metropolitan areas: New York City; Newark-Jersey City, and Miami-Ft. Lauderdale. It is estimated that Puerto Rico is home to around 300,000 people of Dominican origin. No other segment of the Puerto Rico population has grown as quickly over the last four decades.
Within this context, meeting their financial needs has become a critical strategy for credit unions operating in the footprint of the Dominican diaspora, something that credit unions serving the Hispanic community -- particularly those that are Juntos Avanzamos designated -- have been doing very intentionally over the last decade.
Serving foreign-born populations is deeply rooted in the credit union movement. Starting with the establishment of St. Mary’s Bank by French-Canadian immigrants coming to New Hampshire at the beginning of the 20th Century, who were systematically denied access to the banking system of that time.
Earlier this year, Cooperativa Jesús Obrero reached out to the Dominican General Consulate General in Puerto Rico to work together for the financial inclusion of the Dominican community in the island. As a result, they recently announced the signing of the first ever collaboration agreement between a financial institution and a Dominican Consulate General in the United States. The agreement was established to promote the financial health of the Dominican community and offer access to its services to Dominicans with an undefined immigration status.
Cooperativa Jesus Obrero is CDFI certified and Juntos Avanzamos designated. It is also an active member of the Inclusiv Puerto Rico network. Founded in 1959, Jesus Obrero serves 9,000 members and holds $110 million in community owned assets. True to the cooperativa’s motto “Siempre al frente” (Always on front), Jesus Obrero has always been at the forefront, identifying social and economic issues that affect the communities the cooperativa serves, leveraging its resources to address them.
For more than 40 years in Puerto Rico, a vibrant Dominican community has been established that works, develops and has evolved, despite the lag in the development of official public policies for it, without the assistance of private institutions that consider them part of their development and in the face of misunderstanding of their needs, aspirations, and collective challenges. Immigrants are an integral part of Puerto Rico’s economy, society, and culture. Unfortunately, many are still excluded from the financial mainstream, and distrust financial institutions in the island.
Puerto Rico’s mainstream financial system has never paid attention to low-income consumers and in particular, the immigrant community. The local cooperativas have always been that entry point to access the asset building tools everyone needs to prosper and build a better life. People with undefined immigration status are most vulnerable to abuses and to being victims of crime. By providing them with access to comprehensive financial products and financial education, we’re keeping them safe and at the same time making our communities safer.
“Through this partnership with the Consulate of the Dominican Republic in Puerto Rico, and with the consent of the Public Corporation for the Supervision and Insurance of Financial Cooperatives (COSSEC) the local regulator, Jesús Obrero will make all our products such as loans, credit cards, car financing or other financial products available to Dominican nationals in Puerto Rico.”
The collaboration agreement seeks to:
- Provide financial products and services adapted to the needs of the Dominican community residing on the Island, both for Dominicans with regular immigration status, as well as Dominicans with irregular immigration status.
- Develop a financial coaching program for the community
- Provide technical assistance and facilitate the access of groups of the Dominican community on the Island for the development of solidarity and cooperative enterprises
- Provide financial products and services to consular employees and their relatives.
At Jesús Obrero Cooperativa, we have individually assisted many Dominicans and we recognize that, in a vast majority, they do not have decent financial access and lack assistance to achieve greater integration into financial formality and development opportunities. This is how we decided to make this alliance to begin to break down this backwardness and achieve greater financial integration of the community.
"We’re in the business of empowering people by giving them the financial tools and education they need to make their dreams a reality. Yuderka Ortega, one of our members is a great example of this human impact. Some may recall that she shared her story at our Juntos Avanzamos proclamation that took place at the beginning of Inclusiv’s Annual Conference. Homeownership for her now is a reality and she feels that 'nada es imposible' (nothing’s impossible). We agree and that’s what financial inclusion is all about," said Aurelio Arroyo, CEO of Cooperativa Jesus Obrero and member of Inclusiv’s board of directors.
Pablo DeFilippi, EVP Inclusiv Network