U.S. Bancorp has joined a growing list of financial companies that are developing marketing strategies for Hispanic consumers.
This summer the Minneapolis banking company has started a campaign in 300 of its 2,242 branches to hire more bilingual employees, distribute Spanish-language marketing materials, and adapt automated banking services to the Hispanic population.
But the main thrust of U.S. Bancorp's program is trying to coax bank-wary people to trust traditional products such as savings and checking accounts. U.S. Bancorp is holding "financial literacy" seminars in the selected branches - which are concentrated in California, Colorado, and Illinois - for those who have grown leery of banks because of negative experiences in their homelands, according to Alice Perez, the Roseville, Calif.-based marketing manager for the Hispanic program.
The seminars cover topics from opening checking and savings accounts to arranging financing for a home purchase. The company is directing its efforts at both new immigrants and first- and second-generation Hispanic-Americans, in some cases collaborating with local school districts to reach its audience.
Hispanics who are more assimilated into the U.S. culture are being steered toward seminars on how to gain access to capital and invest in 401(k) plans.
"There is a lot of excitement out there," Ms. Perez said. "It is all about building relationships."
U.S. Bancorp is following the lead of other financial companies that have tried to penetrate the growing Hispanic market in recent years, said Charles Wendel, president of Financial Institutions Consulting in New York.
Citigroup, for example, is buying Mexico's second-largest bank, Banamex, boosting its ability to sell its consumer banking, finance, investment, and insurance products to Mexicans on both sides of the border.
Last year Bank One Corp. forged a wide-reaching relationship with the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce through which the Chicago banking company pledged $5 million of venture capital financing and offered affinity programs for Hispanic business owners.
Last month MasterCard International announced it would work with the League of United Latin American Citizens to organize bilingual financial education workshops for Hispanic communities.
"It is the fastest-growing ethnic community," Mr. Wendel said. "It is a big market. You are trying to get a niche and develop it."
Banking companies also must lend and invest in diverse communities, according to the guidelines of the Community Reinvestment Act. This leads them to focus on Hispanics and other ethnic groups, Mr. Wendel said. "It is the right thing to do," he said.
Marketing to immigrants can be challenging, Ms. Perez said, because many do not trust banks. In some parts of Mexico, for example, banks are not insured, and depositors have lost their savings, she said. "We are building trust with them," she added.
Alfredo Martin, a U.S. Bancorp branch manager in Milwaukee, said the campaign has "been encouraging" for his customers, about 70% of whom are Hispanic. The Spanish-language marketing materials and bilingual employees in his branch "will make banking more convenient and easier," he said. "It will certainly make a big difference."
Mr. Martin's branch has offered homebuying seminars for Hispanic customers, he said, and these were well-received.
Ms. Perez said she spent nine months developing the marketing plan and added that she expects to see an increase in market share in the targeted areas. "We are going to do this and do it right," she said.