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M&T embraces multicultural strategy to grow customer base

“Our goal is to be the bank of choice for our multicultural communities,” says David Femi, manager of multicultural banking and community affairs for M&T. (Submitted Photo)

It’s no secret the state’s Latino population is growing, and census figures confirm it: While the mostly white population declined from 55 percent of the population in 2010 to 47 percent in 2020, the Hispanic population rose from 8.2 percent to 11.8 percent.

In some areas, the increase was even more dramatic. The Latino population in Baltimore City, for example, nearly doubled in that decade, soaring from 4.2 percent to 7.8 percent.

Given those numbers, it’s no surprise that businesses want to take advantage of the demographic shift.

One of those businesses is M&T Bank, the second-largest bank in Maryland.

Based in Buffalo, New York but with some 90 branches in the Baltimore area, M&T has launched a multi-faceted campaign to attract Latino customers.

“Our goal is to be the bank of choice for our multicultural communities,” said David Femi, manager of multicultural banking and community affairs for M&T.

“We know they are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. economy. We want to really deeply connect with them. We want to understand their banking behaviors, understand their financial attitudes, so we can better serve them.

“If we’re not growing with Latinos, we’re not growing at all.”

M&T’s push includes posting Spanish-language marketing posters in banks located in areas with a large population of Latinos, hiring employees fluent in Spanish and offering financial incentives to existing employees to learn Spanish.

In addition, the company this summer launched a Spanish version of its website, the bank’s first non-English site.

The company also offers many of its financial education courses in Spanish and is working on offering online bank appointments in Spanish.

Matt Bielecki, M&T’s retail regional manager for Baltimore, says three branches have undergone makeovers to cater to the multicultural community, including the Fells Point branch and two in the Ellicott City area. (Submitted Photo)

While Latinos are the main target of M&T’s multicultural push – “Everything we do starts with Spanish,” Femi said – it is not the only targeted population. M&T also has marketing posters and business banking materials in Korean and Chinese, and is reaching out to other minorities.

“We’re building a multicultural strategy for communities with high concentrations of racial, ethnic and language diversity,” he said. “We have communities dominated by African Americans, and we want to be their bank of choice. We know certain communities are dominated by Koreans, we want to be their bank of choice.”

In the Baltimore area, three M&T branches have undergone makeovers to cater to the multicultural community, including the Fells Point branch and two in the Ellicott City area of  Howard County, said Matt Bielecki, M&T’s retail regional manager for Baltimore.

The bank has identified another dozen or so additional branches in Maryland that have a significant minority population and will be given the multicultural makeover by the end of the year, Bielecki said.

A former branch manager at the Fells Point branch, Bielecki said that branch had struggled to accommodate its Spanish-speaking customers. But the recent changes, including adding Spanish-language posters, employees who speak Spanish and a bilingual business banker, have helped.

Just a few months ago, he said, bilingual employees in the three banks started wearing nametags with their native flag on it – an indication that they speak Spanish.

“The first week, a (customer) dropped his guard when he saw the nametag and immediately started speaking Spanish,” Bielecki said. “It’s made a big impact. We can say we have people in this branch that speak your language.”

The Fells Point branch also recently expanded its financial education courses, held in community settings and covering such topics as budgeting and preparing to buy a house, to include courses in Spanish.

The multicultural campaign is good for customers and for M&T, according to Femi.

“This is the fabric of who we are now,” he said. “We know that if a bank does not have a multicultural strategy, that bank is not going to grow.”