The best bet for a Chicagoan who wants to take out a loan but speaks only Urdu may be Devon Bank, where Viviana Rodrigues, a personal banking officer, can speak with customers in that language.

Urdu is one of the more than 30 languages - including Spanish, Russian, Hindi, Greek, Chinese, and Assyrian - that various employees of the bank speak.

"Our market is ethnically diverse," said Mike Heimlich, assistant vice president of marketing and public relations for the $220 million-asset bank. "Our staff reflects that same diversity."

A Big Hurdle

Language barriers are a big hurdle for banks striving to reach an ethnically diverse customer base.

And when it comes to publicizing a bank's community reinvestment activities among the groups that will benefit most, the real power comes from old-fashioned word of mouth.

Word of mouth works for Devon Bank because the message being conveyed - that the bank is ready and able to serve its community - reaches exactly those people it wants to draw: the residents of its own market area in Chicago's northwest suburbs.

Even those Devon employees who aren't local residents make themselves a part of the community, because they can converse easily and become involved in local activities.

Gandhi's Birthday

Even in its annual gift calendar, the bank makes good use of its familiarity with the local cultures by including the religious and national holidays of many residents.

For instance, October calendar highlights include not only Yom Kippur, Columbus Day, and Halloween but also Mohandas Gandhi's birthday, Chinese Double Tenth Day, and Czechoslovak Liberation Day.

Devon Bank does not omit advertising from its publicity efforts. It frequently places ads in ethnic newspapers. Ad copy alternates between English and the readers' native tongue.

Someone Who Understands

Mr. Heimlich said it makes the customers "more comfortable knowing that there is someone out there who really understands their special needs. And it enhances the bank's reputation for being actively involved in the community."

The same principal applies whenever banks mount community outreach campaigns. The key is finding the medium to reach potential customers.

Sometimes that can mean a more traditional information source, like television. For example, Citibank Arizona and the Phoenix-based NBC affiliate annually sponsor a "Home for the Holidays" program aimed at helping homeless families.

"Every night on the news, the TV station profiles a homeless family," said Sally Hinderland, the bank's community relations manager. "It's a real tug at the heartstrings. People thank us for making them aware of the need."

The response has gone beyond thanks, too. In the past, the monthlong program has prompted offers of jobs, housing, and furnishings.

Ms. Ferring is senior editor of Retail Banking Manager, an American Banker newsletter.

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