January 27, 2006
By Janel Watson
The Hispanic community is the largest non-banking population in the United States, according to a federal agency, and also happens to be Tennessee's fastest-growing.
SunTrust Bank is not only advertising toward this untapped market, it's trying to educate it through a series of financial literacy programs.
Tatia Cummings, emerging-markets coordinator at SunTrust, is heading up and conducting the courses. She says the instruction covers an array of financial topics from how to set up an account and establish credit to retirement savings and home loans.
Cummings says one in three Hispanics living in Middle Tennessee resides in Davidson County, where SunTrust has its largest statewide concentration of branches - 35 of its total 193.
The growth of the local Hispanic community shows no signs of slowing. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic community in Tennessee increased three times faster than the overall population from 1990 to 2000. In the past five years, that rate may have increased up to 10 times, if population projections by the Tennessee Department of Health are correct.
And, if the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation statistic holds true for Tennessee that half of Hispanics in the United States don't have banks accounts, there might be more than 25,000 households here for banks such as SunTrust to gain as customers.
Yuri Cunza, president of the Nashville Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, says the reason so many are unranked is because they're new to the United States and don't trust in our banking system.
"I happen to be constantly around new businesses and people, and I care to ask where they're from and why Nashville," he says.
He says they're here for jobs. He says he's from Peru, where factory workers can make less than $100 a month in wages and whose cost of living is comparable to that of the United States.
And he says that, even though the Hispanic community has moved here to pack away funds, many residents are afraid a bank account could be seized or frozen if there is a problem with their legal status. He says that educating them ameliorates those fears and that they're more likely to invest their finances in the local economy than send it back home.
Tim Amos, senior vice president of government relations at the Tennessee Bankers Association, says although recent legislation such as the Patriot Act has tightened up customer identification requirements on banks, anyone who has two forms of approved identification may open an account.
"We don't have any different rules for immigrants than we do for U.S. citizens. We don't have seizures of funds in the U.S., unless you committed a crime or there is a tax levy or there's some (other) judicial process," Amos says.
He says another benefit of banking in the United States is the lack of sporadic currency devaluations that happen regularly in other countries.
In addition to enlightening the Hispanic community with these facts, Cummings is also adding to what she calls her "Hispanic task force," which comprises 12 employees working in a number of Middle Tennessee branches. She says her goal is to add 30 bilingual staff members to SunTrust's branching network by the end of this year, including a commercial and residential loan officer.
Source: Nashville Business Journal