A sign reading "Hablamos espanol." Banks could post signs in-language promoting the fact they offer services in different languages that cater to different communities.

3 Ways Banks Can Reduce Language Barriers for LEP Customers

The limited English proficient (LEP) community needs language access in banking. How do you reduce barriers to attract and serve your LEP community? Here are some ideas you can implement quickly.

Make it easy to bank with you by making a connection 

The simple fact is this: 20% of people in the U.S. speak a language other than English at home. One in five people! That is a lot of people who need quality service and are likely not getting it from your competitors. 

How can you set yourself apart?

Bring the human touch to their banking experience.

Related: How Banks Can Speak Their Customers’ Language

1. Focus on customer service

Be serious about providing a great customer experience. Customer service representatives shouldn’t muddle through a call with the best Spanish they can muster. And customers shouldn’t have to wait to speak with a bilingual agent.

Every customer should be served quickly and should walk away feeling confident they understood exactly what took place. And absolutely nothing is better for business than positive word of mouth.

Start with the simple things first:

  • Post translated welcome signs, and advertise in English AND in Spanish (or Mandarin, or Arabic . . .).
  • Do you have a bilingual notary on staff? Broadcast it!
  • Recognize cultural celebrations that are important to your community (signage, decorations, perhaps an email).
  • Have a translated list of supported languages at the counter and featured online. If you offer financial interpreting of any kind, you will be a standout.

Then build out from there:

  • Hire bilingual staff. If your community has an LEP population of note, it also has bilingual LEP people looking for great jobs!
  • Translate key financial documents. Think credit card applications, mortgage information, car loan applications, etc.
  • Work with a language service provider (LSP) to offer translation and remote interpreting via phone or video for in-person and online interactions. And look beyond Spanish interpreters. There are so many options and so many languages available for interpretation that are literally just a phone call away.

Any combination of these will give you a significant competitive edge.

2. Reach people where they are

Focus on the demographics of your community. Larger banking chains will likely focus their efforts on Spanish speakers. And what works in Des Moines, Iowa, may not work in Schaumburg, Illinois. 

  • Participate in the community! Talk to trusted advisors, build trust with community organizations, and, most importantly, listen. 
  • Know how the population you’re trying to reach likes to access your services. Not every population has access to certain technologies, for example, so online banking is not going to be the best option for everyone.

Engaging with the community will foster relationship-building skills on your team and will give them a deeper understanding of the personal goals of your customers.

3. And ask people what they need!

You would be amazed how many companies DON’T ask clients for feedback. LEP customers are even more likely to supply feedback when asked in their preferred language. How do you start? 

  • Start by translating your comment cards! 
  • Then move up a level and do some “voice of the client” interviews.

It does not take a lot of interaction to start noticing the trends. You simply have to ask! 

At the end of the day, reducing the language barriers to financial services is really about the simple things. 

Focus first on the day-to-day interactions (both in person and online): things like opening an account or cashing a check. Walk through that process and think about all the friction points for an LEP consumer from the moment they walk in the door. Talk to trusted organizations and start building relationships. Before you know it, you’ll be making significant headway in serving the financial needs of your LEP community! 

Note: No federal law expressly mandates that institutions conduct origination discussions in languages other than English. Yet the requirements and limitations of the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) can be fairly strict when interacting with LEP borrowers. And many states (hello, California) have their own guidelines. It is likely you are aware of your own state’s requirements, but here is a very helpful overview of the LEP lending landscape.