Vantage West small business expert Joaquin Vences, right, chats with Jose Luna, head of security at Arizona Special Forces security service, during Luna’s visit to the credit union on South Craycroft Road.

Ron Medvescek / Arizona Daily Star

Vantage West is the first credit union in Arizona to be recognized by a national industry group for service to the Hispanic market, an expanding segment that officials say will be the key to future growth.

The Tucson-based financial institution received the Juntos Avanzamos (Together We Advance) designation during a ceremony last week. Although the designation has been in use since 2005, it has been mostly limited to companies in Texas, where it originated.

The program has recently expanded throughout the country under the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions and Vantage West is its first designee.

The title comes with access to grant money for programs targeted at the Hispanic community and for educational materials, officials said.

In order to earn the designation, credit unions must complete an extensive application, including information about what products and services they offer — as well as what strategies they are using — to serve the Hispanic market, federation officials said.

Out of Vantage West’s 135,000 members, about 45,500 are Hispanic, said Jill Casey, assistant vice president for communications and content marketing, and that number is rising.

As of August, Hispanic membership growth is increasing at an annualized rate of almost 7 percent, compared to just over 2 percent for general market membership growth, Casey said. Account balances for Hispanic members are also growing faster than in the general market.

“That alone tells us that is where our growth is, that’s where it has been, where we need to keep an eye,” she said.

The credit union has focused on outreach, having a presence in the community at different events, officials said, as well as partnering with the Consulate of Mexico in Tucson for financial education forums.

But a big part of what Vantage West considers its success within the market is recognizing the unique characteristics of Hispanics in the area.

“Where in other regions Hispanics are thought of as underbanked and underserved, that is not the case in Arizona,” said Luis Soto, Hispanic segment marketing manager. “We’re reaching out to people who understand financial services but need those little cultural nuances for those services to resonate with them.”

Although there are common denominators, the Hispanic market is highly segmented, credit union officials said, so the credit union has focused on research to determine the best way to reach clients.

“A lot of it boiled down to age, and that dictated their preferences in how to receive the messages that we were sending,” Casey said.

With more than 120,000 Hispanic-owned businesses in the state, the credit union also offers bilingual small-business experts in its lending and services division, officials said.

“If we want to be successful, if any company wants to be successful, they need to make sure they properly serve the Hispanic market and culture,” Soto said.

Contact reporter Luis F. Carrasco at lcarrasco@tucson.com or 807-8029. On Twitter: @lfcarrasco