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Case Study: Raiz FCU

Raiz FCU Makes Notable Community Impact
Through DEIBA

Better understanding leads to better service

Raiz FCU CEO Max Villaronga knew that Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging and Accessibility (DEIBA) must be a strategic imperative for the $930 million credit union. While he admits he was apprehensive at first to take DEIBA to the strategic level over concerns about misunderstanding intent or politicization, he believes deeply that credit unions were built for equality and inclusive treatment. He brought in CU Strategic Planning’s Chief People Officer Ronaldo Hardy, a former credit union CEO himself, to help guide decision-making with Raiz in terms of strategic direction and resource allocation to further assure the credit union’s meaningful service to its membership and ongoing survival.

When considering Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging and Accessibility, one of the biggest questions credit unions have is, “How do we begin this journey toward DEIBA when we don’t even know what we don’t know?” It’s a loaded question that can make the journey seem insurmountable … at first. After all, how do you begin when you’re not even aware of what you don’t know?

“We're serving  a highly diverse membership, so we need to understand what their life circumstances are like, so from a business standpoint, we felt bringing in an outside perspective from a DEIBA professional was mission critical.”

– Raiz FCU CEO Max Villaronga

max villaronga.jpg

Max Villaronga, Raiz CEO

No One Right Answer

Villaronga asked this same question three years ago, and in a recent discussion with Hardy he addressed how Raiz answered this very question. There’s no one right answer. It’s a journey with a branching path, but let’s start with what we do know.


We know the values of DEIBA are key to a healthy, flourishing organization and a productive, engaged workforce. We also know that DEIBA correlates to organizations that are 35% more likely to earn above-average income. DEIBA also influences two-thirds of job seekers’ employment decisions, as well as helping to retain employees, reducing turnover and increasing job satisfaction.


So, what don’t we know, and how do we figure that out?

Baselining Unconscious Bias

Villaronga explained that one way Raiz was able to identify the starting point the credit union needed to begin their DEIBA journey was through an Unconscious Bias Assessment. But what exactly does that mean?


An Unconscious Bias Assessment is an extensive, qualitative and quantitative review of a credit union’s staff, leadership, policies and practices. The qualitative review includes one-on-one interviews with board members and volunteers, executive management and key leaders in the human resources, lending, and collections departments. Additionally, a thorough review of all established policies and practices, including lending, collections and ΗR is necessary. Finally, dig into internal and external recruiting practices; team members, leadership, and volunteer composition; and disciplinary actions by race, gender, and age.


A strong quantitative review includes outlining membership, leadership, board and community composition. Raiz’ quantitative review comprised a group leadership strategic planning meeting, covering seven different categories of potential unconscious bias in which staff and leadership took Harvard’s Implicit Association Assessment. This quantitative assesses categories such as race, gender, career, disability and sexuality.


In addition, the leadership team was also assessed on biases regarding age, weight and skin tone. Results were collected anonymously and analyzed in aggregate. By opening dialogue on these types of topics, companies are able to begin to close the gap of knowledge and start filling in some of the answers to the ‘what don't we know that we don't know’ question.

“Don’t feel like you have to have all the answers right away.”
– Raiz FCU CEO Max Villaronga

Turning Analysis into Action

Taking the Unconscious Bias Assessment and heeding its findings requires leaders’ humility, empathy and a willingness to evolve, according to Villaronga.


“We need to be willing to listen to others. Partner with others who can see the things you may not see,” he advised other credit union leaders on perspective. “Start somewhere, have the humility to ask others about their journey to help you with your blind spots.”


On working with CU Strategic Planning and Hardy, Villaronga said, “I wanted to have somebody who was willing to shoot straight with me and just tell me how it is.” That extends to asking Hardy to review something he’s written or partnering with different organizations, from local community organizations to credit union associations, such as the National Association of Latino Credit Unions and Professionals, the African American Credit Union Coalition and CU Pride.


“Through these organizations, we hear the stories of people who are different from ourselves and gain understanding of some of the members we're trying to serve,” Villaronga said. “The experiences are shockingly different.”

From Talk, to Walking the Walk, to Results

Identifying those areas of unconscious bias can have expansive results. A direct result of Raiz starting to answer these questions through the use of the Unconscious Bias Assessment was the founding of the Underserved Communities Foundation, a nonprofit to focus attention on the systemic issues that cause people to experience poverty.


“I had an idea for a number of years that I wanted to do more, and that doing the work that I do is more than a career or a job: It's a calling,” Villaronga explained. “But I felt the way credit unions are structured is just not enough for the impact I want to have in the world.”


He continued, “I'm not sure I can tell you the entirety of the path or journey that's in front of me, but I've pleased with how it's gone so far. I'm okay with the opacity, the fogginess of that journey because I feel like it's a journey to do right by people.”


One of the things the Foundation does is work to help young adults exiting the foster care system to build their futures. They often receive temporary housing and help finding a job, but not much else – like every day, practical items, such as a bed, blankets, work clothes, an iron and the like. Villaronga noted that these people, who’ve already had so much against them, can’t show up, ready to work if they can’t sleep, because their only option is the hard floor of their studio apartment.


Raising DEIBA with Raiz’ business partners has also led to broader understanding and change. Villaronga has pointed out to the credit union’s vendors that their statements of diversity have not matched up to their actual practices, such as boards lacking diversity.

Conclusion: No Quick Fix

“A quick fix is unrealistic,” Villaronga advised. Raiz is three years into its journey toward real change in DEIBA, not only inside the walls of the credit union, but also in the community it serves. True DEIBA is never ending.


If someone’s selling a quick fix, like an hour or day-long training even, it’s hollow and performative. Real change isn’t created by a social media post recognizing Black History Month or Gay Pride Month. For change to be effective, it must be data-based and come about through cultural evolution.


This deep of an evolution does not come without challenges. Credit union leaders and team members must be willing learners and mentally prepare for the discomfort of change and to have grace with themselves and each other. Is your credit union ready to begin your journey?

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