"It came first from the heart and then from the numbers," marketing chief says
“Somos el banco que te ayudará a conseguir tu primera casa,” the Federal Savings Bank website reads unabashedly. Translation: “We’re the bank that will help you secure your new home.”
The text is found on the bank’s Spanish-language website, a cog in its broader effort to reach Latino borrowers seeking homeownership. Spearheading the effort is Alejandra Denda (pictured), who’s been hired as the lender’s first chief marketing officer. Mortgage Professional America spoke to Denda to gain more insights into the bank’s strategies in reaching the coveted demographic.
In a telephone interview that was interspersed with English and Spanish, Denda explained how she plans to lure Latinos borrowers for the lender. The task is heightened in urgency given a report by the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals suggesting the industry needs to create a more conducive environment for first-time homebuyers – particularly in communities of color.
Denda has already begun tackling her task by launching the Spanish version of the bank’s website, providing Spanish-language online mortgage applications and broadening the bank’s mission statement, tagline and messaging toward the goal of becoming more inclusive.
“It came first from the heart, and then from the numbers,” she said of FSB’s dual motivation in reaching out to the Hispanic borrower in a more robust manner. Detailing the first motivation, she invoked Javier Ubarri, president of Federal Savings Bank since 2011, who happens to be of Puerto Rican descent.
She also noted the lender’s strong ties to the Latino market given its headquarters in Chicago, home to a sizable Mexican American population. “We’re really emotionally connected to the community, which is different from other banks that translate everything into Spanish but then it doesn’t make any sense,” she said, noting the difference in translating words literally without any cultural context.
And then there’s those numbers that can’t be ignored. Latinos are predicted to account for 70% of homeownership growth over the next 20 years – the only racial/ethnic group that will experience an increased homeownership growth, according to the Urban Institute. Such statistics would prompt any lender to reach out to the population segment, she suggested.
Denda noted the bank’s outreach is an offshoot of its ties to the Hispanic community. The lender has long teamed up with National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals chapters in providing financial education sessions in underserved communities. Moreover, the bank continually seeks to have its rank-and-file inclusive of people of color to create greater accessibility to Hispanic clients: “We have a strong percentage of bankers who speak Spanish, and are always looking for more,” she said.
Education is key to its outreach efforts, particularly to immigrants averse to banking given corruption in their native countries. Such suspicion of banking institutions yields the need to explain regulatory protections over US banks, she suggested. The bank also charges no pre-approval fees even as other lenders impose the charges. “People charge Hispanics for pre-approval when they shouldn’t be charged,” she said. “So, we have a very strong focus on education.”
In its corporate literature, Federal Savings Bank touts Denda’s personal and professional experience in listing her bona fides for the job at hand. Born in Argentina to Italian and Germany parents, she possesses an innately multicultural experience, the company noted. She brings 25 years of marketing experience, including marketing some of the world’s biggest CPG (consumer packaged goods) brands after having earned a master’s degree in global marketing from Harvard University. She is currently adjunct marketing professor at Northwestern University, officials noted.
The bank joins a growing list of institutions taking steps to cater to Latino borrowers. In a July interview with MPA, Denver-based Maxwell’s CTO and co-founder Rutul Davé detailed the launch of its Spanish-language mortgage solutions, a bilingual option for mortgage applications, enabling lenders to better serve the growing Hispanic market – dramatically improving access and user experience for Latinos with limited English proficiency. In his talk with MPA, Davé pointed to limited English proficiency as one of the most significant barriers to homeownership for Hispanics, along with credit score challenges.
And in September, Cleveland-based CrossCountry Mortgage bolstered its service to Hispanic borrowers, including the use of dedicated tools designed to generate borrower confidence and help overcome language barriers. Central to the outreach is a Spanish-language mortgage application to a focused website geared to Hispanics. In an interview with MPA, spokesperson Alicia Gauer described the motivation behind the effort: “The Hispanic population in the US has grown significantly over the last decade,” she said. “We recognize the purchasing power this important community represents.”
In the same month CrossCountry’s initiative was announced, Bank of America launched its Community Affordable Loan Solution in select communities, an initiative tailored to expand homeownership opportunities to historically underserved borrowers. Dubbed a Special Purpose Credit Program, the product targets Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino borrowers, both population segments that historically have not met traditional standards toward creditworthiness. To that end, the initiative waives the traditional prerequisites of down payment or insurance, comes with no closing costs, and is not contingent on credit score.