Conference Attracts Bankers, Community Groups and Public Officials to Bring Hispanic Immigrants


LOUISVILLE, Ky. — With about 130,000 Hispanics living in Kentucky—and that number growing steadily—the opportunities to market financial services to them are wide open. Many bankers, however, aren't participating fully in this untapped market because of barriers such as language, culture and education.

That's one of the messages expected to emerge from "Into the Mainstream," a conference sponsored by the Louisville Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, in partnership with the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, the Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati and the Kentucky Housing Corporation.

The day-long conference is being held today at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Louisville and is part of the St. Louis Fed's ongoing "Branching Out" initiative to focus on financial and community issues.

"In the last 10 years or so, the number of Hispanic immigrants in Kentucky has nearly tripled," said Maria G. Hampton, senior executive for the St. Louis Fed's Louisville Branch. "Unfortunately, national research shows that 10 percent of people don't have an ongoing relationship with a financial institution. Of that group, Hispanics make up about 40 percent. The Hispanic market, however, is large, young and fast-growing, and the St. Louis Fed's goal for the conference is to serve as a catalyst to help turn that around so that bankers and other financial service providers realize what a wonderful business opportunity they have."

With both panel discussions and interactive sessions, the conference covers topics such as the regulatory environment, migrant farm worker rental housing and homeownership, and financial education.

The keynote speaker for the conference, Roberto Herencia, is the president of Banco Popular North America in Chicago, the U.S. banking subsidiary of Popular Inc. and the largest Hispanic-owned bank in the United States. In March, Herencia was chosen as one of the "Fast 50 Business Leaders" in the area of innovation by Fast Company magazine and was among five New York area business leaders named last year as "Latino Executive of New York by the Metropolitan New York Better Business Bureau. He's also been awarded the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

Herencia emphasizes that his financial organization has been successful, in part, because Banco Popular recognizes the diversity within the Hispanic population. "We treat this market not like a homogenous population, but with a wide cultural variation, and according to heritage and country of origin," he says.

In addition, he notes that Banco Popular is "engaged and listens to this community, and we've created a variety of two-way communication forums to help us stay connected."

While Herencia recognizes that great progress has been made in reaching out to the Hispanic market, he characterizes several obstacles that stand in the way of fully serving Hispanics' financial needs, such as "regulatory burdens, plain bigotry and bias, and a lack of companies with a heart."

Says Hampton: "We hope this conference is the start of a dialogue among bankers, community groups, elected officials and Hispanic immigrants so we can begin building the kind of understanding and trust to overcome those obstacles."

With branches in Little Rock, Louisville and Memphis, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis serves the Eighth Federal Reserve District, which includes all of Arkansas, eastern Missouri, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, western Kentucky, western Tennessee and northern Mississippi. The St. Louis Fed is one of 12 regional Reserve banks that, along with the Board of Governors in Washington, D.C., comprise the Federal Reserve System. As the nation's central bank, the Federal Reserve System formulates U.S. monetary policy, regulates state-chartered member banks and bank holding companies, and provides payment services to financial institutions and the U.S. government.

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