Largely ignored by Washington labor unions, Amalgamated Bank of New York is planning to woo the capital city's Hispanics.
Amalgamated, the nation's largest union-owned bank, plans to court Latinos who own small businesses or are looking for auto loans, home equity loans, or free checking. The $2.5 billion-asset bank recently hired Washington's former superintendent of banking, Anthony J. Romero, to spearhead the effort.
"We are trying to beef up our marketing efforts, and we wanted to find someone who knew the Hispanic community," said Gabriel P. Caprio, president and chief executive officer of Amalgamated. "Tony has good insight into that market."
Since Amalgamated's Washington branch is located along Washington's high-rent office corridor, bank officials said they aim to install a few automated teller machines near Latino neighborhoods such as Adams Morgan and Mount Pleasant. A branch opening is being considered, too.
Amalgamated is drawing up a series of advertisements for Spanish-language newspapers and radio stations. It also intends to invite Hispanic leaders to the bank, Mr. Romero said.
But cracking the Hispanic market has never been easy, observers said.
Juan Albert, executive vice president of the Greater Washington Ibero American Chamber of Commerce, a 300-member organization of Hispanic business owners, welcomed the outreach. But he cautioned that it would take much "hand-holding to attract the Latino business owner" because of language barriers and the lack of familiarity with the country's banking practices.
And some large competitors, such as BB&T Corp., are aggressively pursuing the same market.
Founded in 1923, Amalgamated originally served garment workers who could not get credit from traditional banks. The bank operates six branches around New York City, serving an array of unions.
It entered Washington in May 1998 but has attracted only $35 million of deposits. So few workers have opened accounts that consumer advocate Ralph Nader sent a letter this year to local union leaders admonishing them for ignoring Amalgamated.
Mr. Caprio conceded that the branch has fallen short of expectations but said he remains optimistic. "We're looking forward to bigger and better things in Washington," he said.