Serving Underserved Asian American Communities: A Story of Two CUs

Jon Hernandez, President/CEO of Mabuhay CU with Fred Docdocil, Mabuhay Community Corner host and Branch and Business Development Coordinator

The California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues are celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by highlighting credit unions that uniquely serve members in these communities. Two of these credit unions are Nikkei CU and Mabuhay CU that under the guidance of President and CEO Jon Hernandez epitomize the credit union philosophy of “people helping people”.  In this feature, Hernandez talks about the history and opportunity of these credit unions.

Tell us a little bit about Nikkei CU and Mabuhay CU’s history.
Nikkei CU was chartered in 1951 under the name of Gardena Valley Japanese CU to serve the local Japanese American community. It was one of several credit unions that were chartered immediately after World War II as financial services was out of reach for Japanese Americans at the time. We experienced significant growth in the 90s with several Japanese companies opening corporate operations in the South Bay, prompting us to recharge with a new name and new look: Nikkei CU. In the late 2000s, Nikkei CU looked to diversify to continue its growth, and our board and management conducted research in 2014 of another Asian American community that would complement the Japanese American community. That resulted in the creation of Mabuhay CU in 2019, which primarily serves the Filipino American community.

What specific needs do these credit unions address?
The profiles of the Japanese American and Filipino American communities are very unique, and our credit unions are well-aligned with their values and needs. At Nikkei CU, our members tend to take a more conservative approach to banking and lending. Whereas larger financial institutions would not see it profitable to finance a vehicle, most especially if the loan-to-value is lower than 100%, we fill that gap for our members and meet them where their financial needs are. We also gear much of our mortgage lending toward the elderly and retirees within the Japanese American community.

With respect to Mabuhay CU, we see several new immigrants within the community with a different perspective to finance. In response, we offer these members financial literacy resources and guidance to U.S. financial services. Remittance services are also very important to the Filipino community, so having a one-stop place to save money, borrow and/or remit it is essential.

How are the credit unions doing? What are some exciting projects you are currently working on?
Like most financial institutions, Nikkei CU has grown in assets during the pandemic, but it also had the highest increase of loan portfolio since its inception in 1951. Mabuhay CU exceeded its three-year goals, opened more than 40 select employee groups, and has shown core profitability on its second year despite the pandemic.

Projects and events we are currently working on include text communication we launched in May 2022; core system review; and digital transformation (digital wallet, etc.). We are also hosting our first in-person Annual Meeting since the pandemic, and are in the initial planning stages to open another branch to expand the Mabuhay brand or start a new brand targeting the Indian community, which is the other top five underserved Asian population.

How do Nikkei CU and Mabuhay CU collaborate efforts to serve their respective communities?
Since Nikkei CU and Mabuhay CU are officially one and the same company, all the decisions made in terms of serving each respective community are ensured to be synergistic and collaborative. In addition to sharing the same leadership team and back office/support staff, both brands are also able to further share other resources, including manpower, to ensure that each of the communities we serve are given the best care possible.

Tell us about some community efforts/social impact initiatives the credit unions are involved in.
Here is a video that spotlights Mabuhay CU Community Service efforts. Some things we’ve been involved with are:

MABUHAY COMMUNITY CORNER - A Vlog that highlights several business and community leaders providing service to the Japanese American and Filipino American communities.

FINANCIAL LITERACY WORKSHOPS - Speaking at various Financial Literacy seminars and workshops for college, high school, and middle school students to educate them about personal finances.

DONATION DRIVE for HOMELESS STUDENTS - For the last three years now, we’ve had the #NikkeiCares and #MabuhayCares donation drive. We collect donations of used clothing (professional and interview outfits), canned goods, toiletries from our members and donate them to homeless students at local colleges and universities.

FOOD DONATION to FRONTLINE WORKERS - Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve done several rounds of food donations to Medical Frontliners and First Responders from local area hospitals and fire stations.

MABUHAY HEROES - Recognize and honor essential workers who continue to serve the community despite the added risks and challenges brought about by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

CARSON COMMUNITY EVENTS - Supported the Stop Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Hate Rally & Vigil as well as the Defend Our Elders Self Defense Workshop in response to the rise in Anti AAPI Hate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

PENNY for YOUR THOUGHTS - Launched a Financial Literacy Vlog to further educate the community about personal finances.

Do you see a need for more heritage-based credit unions?
Yes. Although financial services are widely commoditized, there are still intrinsic perceptions from different immigrant populations when it comes to financial services.

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