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By Miguel Lopez
Encore Bank doesn’t have a large branch presence so we rely on our community outreach officers and technology to connect with customers. This has been particularly important in serving an important segment of our customer base — Hispanic Americans — who comprise roughly 18 percent of the U.S. population and hold more than $780 billion in spending power.
Yet despite their collective contributions to the economy, many Latino and Hispanic members of the communities we serve in Arkansas, Texas, Florida and Missouri, are historically unbanked or underbanked.
Miguel Lopez, senior vice president and chief community outreach officer, Encore Bank, Little Rock, Ark.
At Encore Bank we’re looking to change that and create a pathway for greater inclusion. So, when ICBA asked me to share our efforts given my role as a chief community outreach officer in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, I immediately said, yes.
Like so many community bankers, we leveraged the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program as a chance to serve as economic first responders for those in need.
And I’m extremely proud to say we successfully processed every loan that came across our desk — whether it was for $5,000 or $2 million, because we understood the importance to those small business owners. Here too our work in the Hispanic community has helped us to make inroads with Hispanic small business owners.
Below are a few other pointers for consideration that we are deploying at Encore bank to help build relationships with customers.
Having a strong banking background is great, but at Encore Bank we’ve also found success by casting a wider net to find individuals with the right mindset and strong community ties. Simply put, you can teach banking, but you can’t teach empathy or cultural nuances. We’re also intentional in hiring people of color at every level of the bank, so when customers walk into our lobby or visit our website, they see a reflection of themselves.
We rely on technology to support our light footprint. COVID-19 just accelerated that trend. So even when our lobbies were closed for eight months we continued to grow deposits and loans and attract new customers.
We offer a Spanish version of our website as well, but technology is not a replacement for human interactions, so we also identify our bilingual bank officers in their areas of expertise to assist customers who may be more comfortable conversing in Spanish.
We’ve found access to capital can be a challenge for Hispanic customers in our market. Sometimes the problem is rooted in a thin credit file. We sit down with those customers that aren’t borrower ready and work with them to get them there.
Other times, it’s about aligning products to best suit customer needs. In one instance we identified a low-cost treasury management solution for a customer that will save the business owner $7,000 annually.
If I was sitting across from a bank chairman I would say outreach to unbanked communities can be akin to planting bamboo. For the first two years you don’t see the growth because it’s happening at the root level to provide a stable foundation. By the third year you can’t get rid of it because it’s well engrained. Having those roots grow down before they grow up requires being intentional and patient.
I often tell customers, “we’re not on every corner, but we’re in your corner” and I think our actions show our commitment to doing what it takes to earn their trust and hopefully, their business.
Miguel Lopez is senior vice president and chief community outreach officer at Little Rock, Ark.-based Encore Bank.