How TheBANK Serves the Underbanked

By Laine Crosby

Hablamos de marketing. (Translation: We speak marketing.)

To capture the growing Hispanic audience, just translate your marketing content into Spanish, and you’re all set, right? Think again. It’s more complicated than it looks to identify the needs of segments with different languages, dialects, and cultures. But TheBANK of Edwardsville did it right.

As marketers, we recognize the Hispanic marketplace is rapidly growing, and we need to develop programs to cater to this segment. However, marketing to the Hispanic community is more than just developing targeted advertising campaigns and calculating the ideal frequency and reach of your direct marketing efforts. The consumer behavior of the Hispanic community has distinct characteristics. Hispanic culture is very collectivistic, as opposed to the individualistic nature of U.S. consumers. As a result, they typically take purchasing advice from their friends and family (Hispanic Marketing, Korzenny and Korzenny, 2012). That’s good news if your brand is already a favorite. However, if you are new to the marketplace, you’ll have to provide culturally relevant messages that can be shared with friends and family.

TheBANK of Edwardsville launched an innovative service in the Hispanic community.

It all started with trust. While trust is perhaps always the most important element of marketing success, the concept has particular resonance among Hispanics. So when Sandy Smith—a bilingual staff member of TheBANK of Edwardsville—set out to deepen the relationships with the community of Fairmont City, Illinois, she approached the Fairmont City librarian. She knew that by working collaboratively with the library––the area’s community hub––she could establish trust.

Smith knew there was a critical need because Fairmont City had no other banks. In this small town outside of St. Louis, Missouri, 70% of residents are Hispanic, and nearly 40% live below the poverty level. They relied on grocery stores and check cashing establishments for their financial needs. That is, until TheBANK stepped in. By November, 2015, TheBANK opened the first fully bilingual banking center in the St. Louis area, right inside the Fairmont City library. Developed with the full partnership of the Fairmont City Library and the Mississippi Valley District Library Board, the branch filled a significant gap for the growing Spanish-speaking population throughout the entire metropolitan area.

Providing the tools to help dreams come true.             

Now this town of 2,500 residents has a full-service bank to cash checks, open accounts, and borrow for cars and homes. And the residents feel welcome—they are banked by people who speak their language and understand their needs. On top of that, the entire staff is universally trained to provide any service from opening accounts to making loans.

The overall construction included an investment in the library space independent of the branch. The new design is full of bright colors, honoring the Hispanic culture. In the branch space itself, the teller stations are open and inviting, unlike traditional waiting areas with ropes and queues.

Even TheBANK’s product offerings are targeted and innovative. For example, TheBANK developed the My Community Home Loan, an alternative loan product for nontraditional borrowers. The loan features more flexible underwriting standards than traditional loans, lower minimum credit scores for acceptance, and lower down payments. Applicants are also able to use Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) rather than Social Security numbers. This loan is open to anyone, based on household income guidelines, or if the home is located in a low- to moderate-income census tract.

With knowledge comes success. Toward that end, TheBANK has also partnered with EverFi to bring the community bilingual financial education. Residents can use EverFi’s online program at home or in the library to learn about topics such as budgeting, saving, credit, and investing.

Other banks could also find success in replication.

Locating branches inside community centers provides a constant flow of traffic, keeping the brand top-of-mind. It’s also a win-win for the bank since the cost of building is less than a traditional branch. And, while a community partner may benefit from a bank’s investment, the bank can offset its long term costs, thereby increasing profit.

Although TheBANK’s income statement reflects the success of its program, the greatest success is measured by the people it reached. What’s more, serving this underbanked market has a domino effect. Moving people out of rental properties and into homeownership means they become stakeholders in their homes and community. It also increases tax revenue, which can fund the area’s employment and economic future. And now, other banks have a model to follow to help serve their nontraditional borrower and underbanked communities.

This past year, the American Bankers Association awarded TheBANK of Edwardsville, in Fairmont City, Illinois, with the ABA Foundation Community Commitment Award for Nontraditional Borrower & Underbanked. Felicitaciones to TheBANK for their innovation in becoming THE bank to the Hispanic community in their area.

Laine Crosby is a marketing and financial services writer, a New York Times bestselling author, and editor of ABA Bank Compliance magazine. Email: [email protected].