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Online banking en Espanol on the rise

By Claes Bell, CFA · Bankrate.com
Thursday, June 21, 2012
Posted: 4 pm ET

With the millions of native Spanish speakers living in the U.S., you'd think offering bilingual online banking services would be a no-brainer.

But two of the nation's biggest banks, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase, just announced plans to offer online banking functionality in Spanish. From Kate Berry of American Banker:

Wells is planning to unveil those capabilities by early next year. The San Francisco bank has long relied on business from Hispanic customers, but executives said that successfully building out sophisticated Spanish-language online banking can be time-consuming and expensive.

"It's very easy to put up a website, but it's very hard to do it right," says Teddy De Rivera, senior vice president of portfolio strategy and emerging trends at Wells Fargo's internet services group. "And if you don't do it right, the consequences can be very severe. Especially if you're moving money, the impact to customers can be horrendous."

JPMorgan Chase plans to offer customers ways to conduct transactions online in Spanish by the end of the year, according to spokesman Patrick Linehan.

"The Hispanic/Latino segment is an important and growing market for us, and we currently offer a number of Spanish-language services. We expect to further expand these services by year-end," he said in an emailed statement.

Nearly 11 million Hispanics bank online every month, according to research firm comScore Inc. Hispanics represent the fastest-growing segment of the population, with 50 million in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau.

I think this is a great and long-overdue move, and it speaks to the growing economic clout of Hispanics in the U.S. Large national banks facing stiff competition from rival banks, and nontraditional products such as prepaid debit cards can't really afford to neglect such a critical demographic.

Some might gripe about U.S. banks having to offer services in Spanish ("grumble grumble, learn English, grumble grumble"), but I think that's off-base. Even if a native Spanish speaker is fluent in English, they may still have trouble tackling the often-complex language of banking in their second language.

If you're a bank and it's not all that difficult or expensive to avoid giving your customers a needlessly negative experience, why wouldn't you? Just seems like good business to me.

What do you think? Should all banks offer bilingual online services?

Follow me on Twitter: @ClaesBell

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