Tulsa Banks Target Hispanic Community

Several banks are reaching out to the growing Hispanic market in Tulsa.

Most efforts target the neighborhoods and business community in east Tulsa between Mingo and Garnett Roads in the 31st to 41st Street area.

The most recent banking addition was the July 22 opening of the MidFirst Bank branch at 3140 S. Garnett Road.

Ed Fariss, senior vice president of Oklahoma City-based MidFirst, said the branch “was primarily situated there to round out our coverage in the Tulsa area with the idea that it would also be oriented with some staffing of bilingual people to serve the growing Hispanic sector of the community out there.”

The bank staffed the branch with a bilingual teller and assistant manager, he said.

In addition, the branch, the ninth in Tulsa for MidFirst, which has been in the Tulsa market only eight years, opened with some fanfare targeted specifically to the Hispanic community. Saturday, Aug. 5, the center hosted a Hispanic celebration with music, children’s activities and food.

Fred Ramos, president of the State Hispanic Chamber of Oklahoma and a director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s Oklahoma City branch, said the various banks that have targeted the area “are all trying.”

While they take different approaches, “I have never seen a Hispanic grand opening before,” he said.

The Hispanic population is “underbanked” for a number of reasons, he said.

“Culturally, there is no FDIC in Mexico,” Ramos said. “You trust Western Union more than you trust a bank in Mexico. Culturally, you know that if a bank president in Mexico takes off with your money, it’s gone. [In the U.S.] if a bank president takes off with our money, we’re insured for up to $100,000. They [Hispanics] don’t understand the banking system [here]. They have to be introduced to that.”

By 2009, the disposable income for the Hispanic population in the U.S. is expected to reach $1 trillion, accounting for 9 percent of total U.S. purchasing power, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth.

“Because there are so many of them (Hispanics),” Ramos said, “if the banking community can figure out how to meet their needs – wow.”

The Bank of America branch at 10802 E. 31st St. has probably the longest history of targeting the Hispanic population in the area.

Becky Heath, branch manager, said Bank of America, “has been really focused on the Hispanic community for a lot of years,” and her branch in particular for the past four years.

The bank offers a variety of services in Spanish, including online banking, telephone banking and credit card statements, and a free money transfer service to Mexico called SafeSend.

“We try to staff our offices with at least one bilingual associate,” Heath said, “and for my center specifically in Tulsa, we have pretty much been coined the Hispanic Banking Center. We probably have eight associates who are bilingual.”

Kathy Knight, Tulsa sales coordinator for Fayetteville, Ark.-based Arvest Bank, said the bank tries to focus on three primary locations, 43rd Street and Garnett Road, 31st Street and Mingo Road and Second Street and Memorial Drive, “to serve our Hispanic market.”

Knight, who oversees the Hispanic Business Program for Arvest, said the bank staffs those branches with bilingual associates and will use the branches to introduce a new product for the Hispanic community.

“We have a product we are getting ready to roll out the end of August called the Unidos card, and we will focus on those three locations to market this card,” she said.

With the Unidos card, “they open an account with our bank and they are given an ATM card that they can send to a family member, whether that person is in Venezuela, Mexico, Britain or wherever, and that person can use that card to withdraw money from that account,” Knight said.

If they use money service businesses, “it costs a lot for them to send this money to Mexico. And they all do it,” she said. “We are trying to find ways that they can get the services they deserve and not be taken advantage of and have a good product.”

While Arvest has “had bilingual services forever, our emphasis really started in January 2005,” Knight said.

The bank has moved Andy Chapa, an associate, into a position of Hispanic business coordinator, she said.

“We envisioned his role as calling on Hispanic businesses, get to know these people and to build trust, which is a big factor in the Latino community. Hopefully, we get them to bank with us,” she said. “He has been very successful.”

“There is a lot of business out there,” she said. “We try to make it as friendly as we can.”

MidFirst Top Performer

For 2005, ABA Says

Oklahoma City-based MidFirst Bank was identified as the top performing privately owned financial institution in the United States for 2005 by the American Bankers Association in the June, 2006 edition of its Banking Journal.

This distinction is based upon MidFirst’s return on shareholders’ equity among privately owned institutions larger than $3 billion. MidFirst was ranked second in 2003 and 2004. MidFirst is the third-largest privately owned financial institution in the U.S. and has nine branches in the Tulsa area.

This industry leading performance was achieved even as MidFirst’s earnings had moderated in 2005 from the exceptionally high levels achieved in 2002 though 2004, a period of historically low interest rates and record mortgage production.

Earnings for the first six months of 2006 totaled $131.9 million, down 19 percent from the $164.1 million earned at the same period last year. Earnings for the second quarter of 2006 were $65.5 million compared to $65.7 million in the same quarter of 2005.

Assets, primarily commercial loans, grew $750 million over the prior year. MidFirst’s capital and reserve base was approximately $921 million on June 30.

“MidFirst has been able to sustain its growth this year as the result of its strong commercial banking performance, including its growing Phoenix operation,” said Bob Dilg, MidFirst’s president.

Commercial loans grew $1 billion, or 45 percent, during the past 12 months, more than offsetting a reduction in mortgage loans and mortgage-backed securities. “We expect that our significant ongoing investment in retail and commercial banking infrastructure in Oklahoma and Arizona will be the foundation of our future growth,” Dilg said. ?

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