PNC leader Susana Melendez-Valencia says financial education and community engagement go a long way in Spanish-speaking communities.
Submitted by The PNC Financial Services Group
Gaining trust of Latino community members is at the core of helping them better understand banking and building wealth, says Susana Melendez-Valencia, regional president and head of Commercial Banking for PNC’s Texas Border Market. She also notes that the bank is committed to earning that trust and loyalty through broadened support for its Spanish-speaking customers.
PNC’s acquisition of BBVA USA in 2021 also expanded the bank’s footprint to the three states with the largest Latino populations – California, Texas and Florida.1
Melendez-Valencia, who has been in the financial industry for more than 26 years, has led the Laredo market for 14 years and the Texas Gulf Coast region for about a year under BBVA USA before joining PNC as regional president. She says understanding the needs of the fast-growing Latino population is key for the banking industry.2
The banking leader shares her thoughts on how best to serve Spanish-speaking communities, how to help members of Latino communities build wealth and why cultivating talent from the communities they serve is important to financial institutions.
What led you to a career in banking?
I grew up the daughter of two Mexican immigrants who settled in Texas, and I watched my parents start from humble beginnings as small business owners. They have been in business for over 50 years now. As the first person in my family to graduate from college, I wanted to break the mold, earn a college degree and make my family proud. I had dreams of living in a big city and working for a big company, and I loved numbers. So, banking seemed to be the path for me. I get to help customers with their financial needs and at the same time get to know them personally and their businesses – all types of industries.
What banking challenges are impacting Latino communities?
There is a range of support that members of Latino communities need from financial institutions like PNC. First, the needs for individuals on the Texas Border are quite different from those in Florida or California, the same way the needs of Salvadorans are different from that of Mexicans, Cubans, Venezuelans and other members of Latino communities. This is why the PNC Bank model of building client relationships is important to serving Latino communities. We understand specific needs. You have small business owners like my parents, global businesses that require international private banking and individuals who require wealth management.
Second, I see the need for more bankers and financial planners who speak Spanish. Less than 5% of certified financial planners are Black or Latino.3 Latinos alone make up 19% of the U.S. population.4 When you compare those numbers, there is a huge gap.
However, on the other end of the spectrum, there is still a large Latino population that is underserved, and I think it has to do with a lack of knowledge about the services available to them. So, financial education is key to helping them learn how financial products and services can help them achieve their life goals. And when I say financial education, I mean everything from helping potential customers understand what a checking account is to understanding how a financial planner may be able to assist you with retirement goals.
And how is PNC meeting those challenges?
There have been instances where some Latinos have come from a country where the banking system has failed them – their life savings disappeared overnight. That can be devastating and cause a lack of trust in financial systems as a whole.
Trust and loyalty are two of the most important qualities that Latinos desire, and one of the best ways to build that trust is to engage with them in their native language. This goes beyond advertising in Spanish. PNC established a Spanish language customer call center in 2001 has broadened its support over time. And we have Spanish-speaking staff in our branches and even our mobile branch units. We still have more work to do in this space, but it’s a start.
What also creates loyalty with Latinos is seeing companies invest in the communities in which they work and live, and I think PNC does a good job of that through philanthropy,sponsorships and its Main Street banking approach.
Through the Office of the Regional President, we get to make local decisions about what is important to our communities. For example, I live in the border city of Laredo, Texas where 95% of the population speaks Spanish. Everything we are doing here, in one way or another, is helping the Latino community, and we are doing this on a much larger scale than we did previously. This is helping us elevate the PNC brand within Latino communities and everyone along the Texas Border.
We have a lender here in Laredo who dedicates his time on Saturdays to teaching PNC financial education classes about mortgage lending to first-time homebuyers. Over the years, we have either sponsored or given grants toward economic development, arts and culture projects and programs that support educational opportunities for children in communities all along the Texas border.
Why is it important to cultivate Latino talent at PNC?
I believe as Latino leaders at PNC, we have an opportunity to use our collective voices to not only improve our own circumstances but also drive the accountability of change throughout organizations.
It’s important to recruit, improve retention and increase opportunities for talented leaders within Latino employee populations. I am very excited to be one of the four executive sponsors of PNC Unidos, which is the first Hispanic and Latino leader forum within PNC. I think now is the perfect time to start a leaders’ forum like this given the number of Latino employees PNC has gained from the acquisition of BBVA USA. I also think that we as Latino leaders have a huge opportunity to help grow the Hispanic business segment within PNC.
We are the second-largest racial or ethnic group in the United States, and it is projected that by 2060 there will be more than 111 million Latinos in this country.5 We have a huge growth opportunity in front of us, and I think with the right financial education, along with building trust and loyalty, we can really help Latino communities.
As a Main Street bank, we are committed to delivering on each of our strategic priorities while looking out for the best interests of all of our stakeholders, including our customers, communities, employees and shareholders. Our focus on operating with integrity drives us to help our customers achieve their goals while also strengthening our communities, reducing our environmental impact and empowering our employees to grow.
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