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Inclusion Matters: The Impacts of the COVID-19 Crisis on Black and Latino/a Americans

Inclusion is the secret ingredient to sustaining service excellence in the face of the coronavirus pandemic because financial inclusion starts with understanding differences in the needs, expectations, and experiences of members.

Materials and resources that address immediate needs for Spanish-dependent members and consumers can be found at the end of this blog.

Unprecedented is a word many are using to describe the coronavirus pandemic and economic fallout—and with reason. In the face of the pandemic, we are experiencing disorienting and rapid change that can overwhelm our senses, including our sense of perspective and our sense of judgment. In our engagements with credit union leaders and members, it is increasingly evident that clarity and focus are necessary to navigate the current moment successfully.

So, we’ll start with our call to action, echoing many others across the industry: keep purpose constant. What is the “why” of credit unions, the fundamental reason that credit unions exist? What we’ve heard from leaders around the industry is that sustaining service is credit unions’ top priority in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and necessary social distancing measures. And inclusion is the secret ingredient in service excellence, because financial inclusion starts with understanding differences in the needs, expectations, and experiences of members. Historically, and today, inclusion is at the heart of the credit union value proposition, that which distinguishes credit unions in a crowded financial services marketplace.

Disproportionate Impacts

Our news feeds are full of distressing stories and data points about the disproportionate harms the virus is inflicting on the disadvantaged, disenfranchised, vulnerable, marginalized, and minoritized. Women are bearing the brunt of initial job losses, which are focused on sectors with higher levels of female employment, and the pressures of caregiving, especially in low- and moderate-income working families. The elderly, especially those in nursing homes and other care facilities, face elevated threats to health and life from infection, while young people will face profound immediate and long-term economic impacts due to existing gaps in core elements of financial well-being, such as debt burdens and home ownership. Inmates and guards in jails across the country are both vulnerable to outbreaks.

People of color are also experiencing disproportionate impacts. Before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Black and Latino/a Americans faced deep and growing inequities in earnings, savings and wealth, job loss and income volatility, access to financial services, and more. As the COVID-19 crisis unfolds, these inequities are beingexacerbated

Pew Research Center Survey Data

Black and brown Americans are disproportionately represented in the service sector, where they are among the lowest paid, most likely to be laid off, least likely to be able to transition to remote work, and most likely to be exposed to the coronavirus. Survey data suggest that Black and Latino/a Americans are seeing higher rates of job loss due to the COVID-19 crisis: Pew Research Center reports that someone has lost a job or taken a pay cut in 61% of Latino/a households and 44% of Black households—vs. 38% of white households. New evidence also suggests that Black Americans face higher rates of coronavirus infection and mortality.

In short, while one of the early ways people talked about the coronavirus was that it “did not discriminate”—that it was an “equalizer” or “equal-opportunity” threat—this could not be further from the truth. Instead, it is clear that the pandemic has disrobed the ugliness of inequality in the United States. COVID-19 is shining a light on what it means to have less income, less savings, fewer benefits like paid sick leave, and less access to insurance and affordable healthcare.

Among the most vulnerable are the almost 45 million immigrants and refugees, and the more than 10 million undocumented people living in the US who work in critical industries like construction, food processing, retail, and food service. Immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, are especially at risk to be laid off, and about half of undocumented immigrants do not have health insurance. 

Imagine facing these challenges while also being designated an “essential” worker—a profound irony.

Imagine what it would be like to live through this pandemic without speaking the language in which virtually all news is being communicated. Imagine what it might be like to be urged to use apps, online banking, video conferencing, remote education, and social media without a smartphone or broadband. Imagine facing these challenges while also being designated an “essential” worker—a profound irony.

The credit union system, by itself, cannot bridge these disparities. But those of us, like Coopera Consulting, who are in close contact with these communities have seen just how impactful credit unions can be. 

What you can do

Provide vulnerable groups reliable, trustworthy, and up-to-date information.
First, communicate what is essential. Specifically: your credit union is a safe place for your money, which is fully insured. Second, state succinctly and very clearly which products, services and initiatives have been applied to alleviate the effects of the pandemic. Explain how the service delivery in the credit union digital and physical channels has changed while being mindful of vulnerable populations, especially those with limited English proficiency or lacking mobility and broadband or a smartphone. 

There is little time to acquire cultural insights during a crisis; your credit union can look to a trusted staff, board member, or community leader who can help understand how a particular culture sees an issue. It may be a good idea to have a “designated driver” of sorts who ensures these changes in service delivery are seen from a lens of inclusiveness and reach critical audiences that may respond differently depending on their education, income level, financial knowledge and experience, age, language spoken and read, cultural norms and values, location, and religious beliefs.

Be repetitive in your communications so that frequency extends your reach.
Make messaging and communication succinct, but also repeat it often. Use nontechnical terms, immediately relevant information, and give action items in positives, not negatives. A message that says “For updated hours, head to our website first” is better received than “Don’t come to the branch.”

Plan in two-week increments and be ready to adapt quickly.
In moments of crisis, we may resort to the familiar, to what comes easy, to what we know. It takes a concerted effort to see and adapt to change in real time. In such a fluid situation, it is better to be pragmatic and acknowledge that circumstances will be changing and what was given yesterday may no longer hold true today. First, we adapted to social distancing and working from home, but as the weeks go by, we need to adapt to how the economy will affect employment levels and business viability. In other words, anticipate changing member needs to inform how your credit union adapts its products and service delivery.

Recognize that inclusion is more than simply access.
Inclusion is a deliberate act that requires clarity, commitment, and purpose. Simple access is pointless if people do not use the credit union solutions.

Coopera has gathered materials and resources that address immediate needs for Spanish-dependent members and consumers. The materials focus on health, finances, employment, food, and cybercrime for individuals and businesses. We encourage credit unions to share these resources with community-based organizations and partners that depend on volunteers or dwindling donations. These organizations are key in helping credit unions reach vulnerable populations.

Click the image to the left to download English and Spanish materials to your computer to help your organization address the immediate needs of Spanish-dependent members and consumers.

Check out the latest.
Filene is here to help credit unions support their people and build their business resiliency during the COVID-19 crisis. Filene will be releasing resources in line with what credit unions need most.
Tell us what you need.
Filene stands at the ready to get you the support and resources that would help you best serve your members and employees right now. Tell us what would be most helpful.