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M&T Bank expands network of multicultural banking centers

A sample name M&T Bank name badge indicates the individual wearing it speaks Spanish.
M&T Bank
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M&T Bank has expanded its network of multicultural banking centers. Launched as a pilot in 2020, it includes roughly 115 of the company’s more than 700 branches, mostly in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic. The centers – where customers can access banking services in multiple languages via bilingual employees and other tools – are designed to remove language barriers.

WAMC's Jim Levulis spoke with David Femi, head of Multicultural Banking and Diverse Market Strategy at M&T Bank about the effort.

Femi: A couple of years ago at M&T, we began to understand the rapidly changing demographics of not just the US, but of our footprints. And there's something unique happening. And I think it's been happening for a very long time. The multicultural population in America and within the M&T footprint is beginning to transform American culture. And as evidenced in the most recent census results, the white population continues to decline. So now multicultural Americans are becoming responsible for all of population growth, and are becoming a major share of expenditure growth within the M&T footprint. I like to tell people now that multicultural population in America have become a major source of growth, a major source of influence, and a major source of change. So, these groups are becoming central to the success of every consumer brand in the country. So to answer your question, I like to say any brand or any bank, that doesn't have a multicultural strategy does not have a growth strategy. So for us, in order for us to grow the bank, we need to connect deeply so that we can understand the banking behaviors and the financial attitudes of our multicultural customers so we can better design banking solutions to meet their everyday banking needs.

Levulis: So if I walk into a multicultural banking center, what differences would I notice compared to a traditional M&T Bank branch?

Femi: That's a great question. I like to start with people. We are in the people business and our teams fully equipped to serve our multicultural customers with cultural and linguistic skills. So what does that mean? If you walked into a branch that's been designated as a multicultural branch, a couple of things will stand out. Number one is the people. Right? Some of these branches are in communities that depict high concentrations of language diversity. So you see people that speak the language. We've been intentional in these branches, hiring from the local neighborhoods and making sure that if a language outside of English is the dominant language, we’re hiring folks that speak that dominant language or certifying them to be bilingual relationship bankers. And we're also paying them a 10% bilingual premium for their language skills so they can better serve the needs of our limited English proficiency customers. So you will see people that speak a language, if English isn't the dominant language in that particular community. Something else you will see…all of multicultural branches now will have marketing posters that are truly reflective of those communities. I’ll give you an example, if you walked into any of our designated branches of the city of Baltimore. As you may know, the city of Baltimore is predominantly Black and African American. You will see marketing posters with images that look like the Black or the African American communities in Baltimore. So when people go in there, they see people that look like them reflected on our marketing posters, and all of our marketing collateral. Something else that you would see…when you go into these branches, we are actually working on launching an online appointment setting for each of these branches that would be in Spanish and other languages outside of English. We currently have an English version. But we also know that we have customers that English is not their primary language. So for us to better serve them, for us to better understand them and connect to them, we're working on launching an online appointment setting tool for some of these branches. And it will be in Spanish with additional languages to follow toward the end of the year. So these are some of the things you would see that would stand out from these branches. I would also say that… in these branches, some of them not all, especially where we have the large space, we would create what we call a community. What does that mean? Members of these communities can come into this community rooms, I call them a community hub, where we will teach them how to budget or teach them how to responsibly own a home, we will teach them how to grow their business, we would invite our community partners from the faith-based communities and the others are coming to these locations where we can brainstorm on how together we can uplift these communities where we serve. So those are some of the things you will see that will be different from a regular traditional branh.

Levulis: And then you mentioned obviously, the necessary language skills, cultural skills for the M&T Bank employees, has M&T hired additional employees or trained current ones to fill these roles at these multicultural centers?

Femi: Great question. So we hired additional employees where there were openings in these branches. Now, the great news is we've always had a pipeline of great talent, right? So the ones that were already here at the bank that self-identified as bilingual, we identified those folks, we put them through language training and language assessment. And then upon successfully completing that they became eligible for the 10% bilingual premium, you know, at the bank right now, we have language line that we partner with, where we can help customers in over 200 languages. In addition to that, we have 15 languages that we specialize in these branches across the footprint. So if any employee in these branches speak any of these 15 languages, they will be compensated for that if they've successfully completed that bilingual assessments.

Levulis: You mentioned also briefly in part of your earlier answer that, you know, more and more banking is being done online. So how has M&T approached this multicultural effort when it comes to digital banking? I know you mentioned the website being in Spanish, but any other efforts in regards to this, that pertain to digital banking?

Femi: Yeah, I mentioned earlier the online appointment setting so folks can go online and schedule appointments in their preferred language, particularly with Spanish to start, that's something we're working on. Now, our website, we recently launched a Spanish website, and on that website, again, to cater to our Hispanic communities, you can go there and read about the services that we offer and also schedule an appointment to talk to someone or contact someone in in their preferred language. Something else a couple of things we're working on. This hasn't happened yet. But it's in the pipeline, mobile banking, where folks can get mobile alerts on their phones in their preferred language. We will start with Spanish and then potentially build out additional languages. That’s some of the things that we're working to make it easier convenient for limited English proficiency customers to do business with our brand.

Levulis: And then overall, is this an effort to reach so called unbanked populations?

Femi: No, I think it's beyond that. It's reaching the unbanked. It's reaching the underserved. But it's also the right thing to do. We are investing in infrastructures that enable us to prioritize the understanding of the fastest growing segment of the American economy, the multicultural segment. So for us it’s beyond the unbanked. Yes, we want to take care of them. It's beyond the underserved. Yes, we want to serve them and meet their banking needs. But it's also understanding them. It's also understanding their banking behaviors. At the end of the day, our goal is simple. We want to uplift all of these communities and make a difference in all of their lives.