In a recent interview with Lili Gil Valletta we covered the innovative program for Latino/a entrepreneurs called Project American Dreams. The main reason this project was established is to give Latino/as a chance to achieve their entrepreneurial dreams through the proper channels, partnering with reputable financial institutions. One of those institutions is U.S. Bank. To explore more about U.S. Bank’s commitment with Latino/a entrepreneurs and the community, I held a little chat with Ervin Blanco, Vice-President and Southeast Chicago District Manager for U.S. Bank.
Marlena Fitzpatrick: What outreach programs and resources do you offer to the Latino community?
Ervin Blanco: U.S. Bank provides a variety of resources for Hispanic customers as well as community organizations that serve them. For example, our Financial Genius website is available in English and Spanish to help customers and non-customers improve their knowledge of personal finance. In addition, we have bilingual bankers across the country to help customers in whatever language they are most comfortable in. Because we draw strength from diversity, U.S. Bank is deeply committed to the communities that we serve and we donate to charitable organizations that are focused on economic prosperity and education, neighborhood revitalization and artistic/cultural activities. We also help build affordable housing, often in Hispanic neighborhoods, to help reduce residents’ rent burden.
Marlena Fitzpatrick: Revitalizing artistic and cultural activities is essential! After all these efforts, what are the services most used by Hispanic customers and why?
Ervin Blanco: Being Hispanic myself and growing up in Hispanic neighborhoods, the services I’ve seen our Hispanic customers use the most are deposit accounts, such as for savings and checking, and mortgage services. So many of U.S. Bank’s Hispanic customers came from families who were homeowners in their native country and, like all Americans, they want to live the American Dream and own their own home. So we help them with obtaining a mortgage and getting ready to apply for a home loan.
Marlena Fitzpatrick: Buying a home is our top priority. Another is to become self-sustained. What advice do you have for small business entrepreneurs?
Ervin Blanco: My advice to small-business owners is don’t always feel like you have to leverage your own cash or out-of-pocket funds to finance your business. This is really big in the Hispanic community. They don’t like to borrow a lot and get into debt. They hold off on brilliant ideas because they haven’t saved enough. Or they finance their business with their savings, 401(k) or their own cash instead of looking for alternative ways to finance their business. They leave themselves strapped. But there are so many things we can help with such as an Small Business Administration loan or equipment financing.
Use your bank as a trusted advisor and don’t underestimate how a bank partner can point you in a direction to grow your business. Many times, business owners don’t realize how much a bank can help. For example, we worked with a Hispanic construction firm owner who was a sole proprietor. He was missing out on tax savings and protection that being incorporated would provide to him. But by speaking to a branch manager, we were able connect him to a Hispanic CPA that we know. They worked together and got the business incorporated. That was networking and helping both customers.
Marlena Fitzpatrick: That’s a great story. We definitely need more financial education. What are the challenges you’ve seen in gaining Hispanic/Latino customers and how have you addressed them?
Ervin Blanco: Some Spanish-speaking people don’t feel comfortable working with a bank because they don’t feel confident about their financial knowledge and they worry about making a mistake. So our Spanish-speaking branch managers teach financial education courses at community colleges to the students and the parents to help them feel more comfortable. Then they realize there is opportunity and help out there for them and there’s hope.
Marlena Fitzpatrick: And where there’s hope, there’s will. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Thank you for your commitment with our Latino/a entrepreneurs and our community.
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