As the newest brand of the Signature Bank of Arkansas, Banco Sí is Arkansas’ first fully bilingual banking institution with every employee able to provide assistance to customers in both English and Spanish. The branch will be located in downtown Rogers and celebrate its grand opening in September as part of Hispanic Heritage Month. Signature has been providing a full line of financial services to Arkansas residents since 2005, and this latest endeavor strives to create an equitable experience for a historically underserved community.
Making Banking Part of the Culture
Gary Head, chairman and CEO of Signature Bank of Arkansas, has been working on the Banco Sí concept for quite some time, and he has discovered that the overarching values of the Hispanic community are not that different from how he was raised. Head points out, “our values aren’t so different; we need to focus on what we have in common and improve our communication.”
That communication struggle is a large part of what Banco Sí strives to alleviate. Currently, there is no bank that has Spanish-speaking employees for every one of its services; some may have a teller, but there probably won’t be a loan officer that can explain to Hispanics, in the language that they are most comfortable, what it takes to obtain a small business loan. At Banco Sí, customers will be able to speak with a dedicated bilingual employee about whatever banking task they would like to achieve. The hope is to build trust with a community of people that historically has had doubts about banking institutions.
“It’s important to help people understand there are safeguards in place and deposits are backed by the federal government, explained Geovanny Sarmiento, senior vice president of community engagement and inclusion for the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce.”
According to Sarmiento, many Hispanics hold some long-standing beliefs that may be inadvertently keeping them from higher financial success. “In the Hispanic and Latino community, many people continue to use cash. Why? Because in the countries we come from, we have a saying: ‘cash is king,’” said Sarmiento.
Therefore, there are many potential customers who are unaware of financial principles that many assume are common knowledge, such as building good credit history or that loans are available to purchase property by only having a partial down payment.
“In the United States, the banking system is set up to help you be more successful,” continued Sarmiento. “Many Hispanics maintain the mentality that they only buy what they can afford, which means they have likely missed out on real estate or business opportunities because they had not saved up all the cash, not knowing that there are banking processes set up that will help them achieve that goal without having all of the necessary funds on hand.”
As more of the Hispanic and Latino population learns about the full-service bilingual approach of Banco Sí, the hope is that they start to embrace it as an integral part of the community; a place where they can bring all of their financial inquiries because they trust that they will be taken care of. As much as Head is rooting for the success of his bank’s new initiative, he also wants it to encourage other banks to consider similar approaches.
“The great part about what we’ve done is that we’ve started something that will require some of our competitors to do something different,” said Head.
A Bilingual Banking Approach that Benefits Everyone
It is easy to see how a fully English/Spanish bilingual bank benefits the Spanish-speaking Northwest Arkansas population, but it is important to recognize the economic prosperity it will bring to the community as a whole.
Sarmiento pointed out that Hispanics learning more about common financial principles – for example, paying your bills on time to build credit – actually benefits the whole banking system because they prove themselves as reliable enough to loan money to. An increase in the number and amount of loans a bank can successfully originate is a sign of a prosperous place. Some of these future loans will be for personal property, but it is likely that many of them will be for the start of a new small business.
“In the Hispanic community, we tend to be very entrepreneurial. A lot of people always dream about having their own businesses. As their needs grow, we know that Banco Sí will be there to grow with them and help them,” said Sarmiento.
Head mentioned that the new president of Banco Sí, Francisco Herrero, was a member of a local business group with more than 2,000 Latino-owned small business owners. Head believes that providing the right support to this demographic could lead to “2,000 being 4,000 small businesses in Northwest Arkansas with Latino ownership.”
While that is a glimpse into what Banco Sí can bring to the area in the future, it is already providing new employment opportunities. The bank is currently hiring for its downtown Rogers location and is excited about the interest from bilingual professionals eager to join on the ground floor of this concept. A representative from Signature said they have even had a few bilingual people from the Central Arkansas region reach out about the open positions at Banco Sí because they are interested in moving to NWA to be part of this venture.
While Banco Sí’s full impact is yet to be seen, it is difficult to imagine that it won’t succeed; after all, NWA’s Hispanic community grew by 44.6% from 2010 to 2020, according to the 2020 U.S. Census. That is almost double the national growth rate. And while the emphasis has been on Banco Sí’s bilingual aspect, the location is open to all existing Signature account holders.
Gary Head has high hopes that this is just the beginning of a new chapter for Signature Bank of Arkansas. “The bigger our footprint gets in the Latino community, we’ll have to have a Latino person in every location. It will make us a better bank.”
Photography by Max Grubb