Border Federal Credit Union leaders recently returned from a conference in Hawaii.

BFCU Chief Executive Officer Maria Martinez had been asked to speak at the conference, addressing some of the innovative programs the credit union has for Del Rio and Laughlin customers.

“I got a call one day, and it’s this lady that works for a company called Paragon. They put together a conference every year, and it’s always in Hawaii, and she said, ‘Hey, I’ve heard about you and I’ve been doing some research, and I know you have some really good programs in your community, and we would like for you to come and feature those programs as part of a presentation to volunteers,’” Martinez said.

She explained “volunteers” are board members and supervisory board members for credit unions.

“So I asked her how many people she was expecting, and she said around 350 to 400 people, and they all travel to Hawaii, mostly from the continental U.S., and they’ve been doing this every year on the Big Island,” she said.

The conference was earlier this month.

Martinez said she decided to speak on “the community-minded board member and volunteer.”

“What I did was talk about some of the events that we do here, such as the financial counseling programs, the VITA program, the youth programs, and I also spoke about the Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) grant that we got, because a lot of them didn’t even know that existed,” Martinez said.

She said the CDFI is a certification BFCU obtained through the U.S. Treasury Department.

“You can only get this certification if you serve low-income communities, and with that certification, you’re able to apply for grants. We applied for a grant, and this past year we got over $700,000 in a form of a grant that we can use for reserves so we can lend out money to people of lower means.

“They give it to you because these are risky loans. You’re taking a risk on these loans, so therefore they want you to have monies in case you need to offset that risk,” she added.

Martinez said she informed her board of directors she would be attending the conference, and asked if any of them would be interested in joining her.

In the end, four members of the credit union board also attended the conference, including board chair Mark Crosby, vice chair Dora Alcalá, Alejandro Garcia and Chris Ryan. Lindsey Young, a member of the credit union’s supervisory committee, also attended.

“More than anything, I was going over our programs, but I also talked about how supportive my board is, because I had to mention to them that just because the CEO comes up with a program or some of the staff come up with a program, if the volunteers – the board – don’t support it, because they are the ones ultimately responsible for policies, procedures and all that, it’s not going to happen, but with their support, things will happen, things will be nurtured, and that was the message I was trying to get across,” Martinez said.

Martinez said she began her talk with a photo of one of the credit union’s youth fairs.

“Another thing I focused on is that we serve the Hispanic community in a way that others may not. I probably don’t have a lot of options, because we are mostly Hispanics in this community, but some credit unions don’t want to serve that industry,” she said.

Martinez said she recently heard that Hispanics will likely be in the majority group in Texas in a decade or so.

“If we don’t serve that group, someone else is going to do it. Other lenders are going to do it, other financial institutions are going to do it. Why not us? We’re the perfect fit. And we do really well, even though we have high risk loans, our delinquencies and charges are so low, it proves people are loyal to you, and they’re going to do what they can,” Martinez said.

Martinez said she believes all of the credit union’s members – Hispanic or not – are loyal to BFCU “because we give them the services that they need.”

“We are the only ones, I believe, where they can knock on the door, and we are going to open it over and over again, and other places won’t do that,’ she said.

Martinez said the conference also featured sessions on cyber security and other issues of interest and a motivational speaker.

“I love the opportunity that I’ve been getting because of the services that we have here in the community, but more than anything, without a supportive board, I would not be able to do the things that I do in the community. It’s thanks to them. Without their support, things would not get done. . . I also always give kudos to my staff, because the board can approve for us to do things, but without the execution team, nothing’s going to happen. They make me shine,” she said.

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