Arkansas opens its first fully bilingual bank to serve a growing Hispanic population

By Pamela Acosta

Northwest Arkansas’ newest bank will reshape the banking experience for the growing Hispanic population in the region. Banco Sí is the first bank in Arkansas to have fully bilingual staff serving the Spanish-speaking community in their language of choice.

Banco Sí, a Signature Bank of Arkansas division, opened on September 23rd in Rogers with a community block party in tandem with Hispanic Heritage Month. 

The 3,966-square-foot building at 114 S. First St. is a space with a rich history in the Rogers community and financial industry. The building once housed The Bank of Rogers, the city’s first financial institution. In honor of its history, the interior space will honor the building’s original mahogany features, marble baseboards, and mosaic tile floor.

The name “Sí” was chosen because the first two letters of Signature are Si, which means yes in Spanish, according to a press release. The name is also attempting to change the narrative for a segment of the market that has historically been told ‘no’ when finances are concerned. 

“We’re here to make a statement, but we’re also here to do the work and show the community that they can believe in us as much as we believe in them,” said Marlee Ramirez Safreed, VP Market Sales Manager at Banco Si. 

“We tell individuals to come to America for the American dream, so let’s make those dreams happen. Your first home, sending your child to college, opening a small business… We’re here to make all those dreams actually come true and turn those “no’s” into “Sí’s.” 

Historically, Hispanic Americans have faced systemic and social barriers that keep them from achieving and enjoying economic success, including discriminatory lending practices like redlining and limited opportunities to build wealth. 

According to a report by the Center for Global Policy Solutions, the median wealth of White households is 18 times that of Latino households. Only 46.1% of Latinos own a home compared to 73.5% of Whites. 

Most Latino families lack access to the necessary savings and investments to climb up the economic ladder. In fact, Latinos are almost three times less likely to have a bank account compared to the general population, which means they lack access to credits, investments, assets, and other wealth-building opportunities. 

“I take this very personally. My mother moved to the US from Guatemala when she was 16. It was just her and her brother; she knew she needed three things: a job, a bank account, and a car. She bought her first car on a Capital One credit card because she thought that’s how Americans did it,” said Safreed.  

“Nobody educated my mother on how banking worked, building your credit, and what that meant, and that affected her for a long time. Her credit was destroyed, and she wasn’t able to recuperate until I started learning about banking at the age of 17.” 

Safreed said the bank’s goal is to show individuals they can trust the banking system. If someone comes in with a question, the staff is prepared to help them find a solution instead of turning them away or sending them to seek their answers elsewhere. Plus, customers will be able to speak to anybody at the bank in Spanish. 

“How wonderful is it to walk into a bank that speaks their language but also looks like them and understands them and knows their story? That’s really what I’m most excited about,” said Safreed. 

“When I told my mom I was working at Banco Sí, she immediately shed tears. And she just said, ‘estoy orgullosa que mi hija está siendo parte del cambio [I’m proud my daughter is being part of the change.]”

For Safreed, breaking the barriers the Latino community has faced in the past comes down to financial education. She wants to ensure everyone who comes into the bank gets the solution they came looking for.  

“We’re here to help you find out how to turn those ‘no’s’ into ‘yes’s,’ and 100% of our team members will be able to do that. There will be no ‘I don’t know’s’ or ‘you have to go somewhere else to learn,’” said Safreed. 

“If there is something we can’t accomplish today, let’s gather as a team and ask, why not? What do we need to actually accomplish that goal?”

Around 20% of Latinos do not use banking, but Spanish-speaking banks are looking to change that. Today, there are 56 Hispanic American banks and credit unions that are FDIC or NCUA insured around the US, according to a recent report by Business Insider.

Banco Sí is staffed by a 100% bilingual team equipped to serve new and existing Signature customers wishing to conduct business in downtown Rogers. Customers can run all their banking in Banco Sí, including opening checking, savings, and retirement accounts and lending options for personal or commercial use. 

We are Banco Sí, Arkansas’ first dedicated bilingual banking experience. We’re proud to be a division of Signature Bank of Arkansas, meaning we are backed by the experience and financial standing of a well-established community bank.

Customers will also be able to transact business at any location of Signature, including the Bank of Brinkley. Plus, the bank will offer free ATM fees as part of its goal to make banking accessible and affordable. 

The seed for Banco Sí was planted years ago when Chairman and CEO Gary Head saw a staff member at one of his Signature Bank’s lobbies helping translate from Spanish to English.

But what Head thought was an act of kindness was, in fact, an individual taking advantage of these Spanish speakers’ struggle and charging money for it. That angered Gary quite a lot, and he wanted to make sure that that never happened again. 

Head made it his mission to staff his banks with Spanish speakers. He looked for employees who were already bilingual, reached out to local non-profits to help him make his vision come true, and the idea for Banco Sí was born, according to Safreed. 

The bank assembled a board of 100% Latino members from local and corporate businesses in Northwest Arkansas. Their input will provide insight to the bank as it continues to represent and serve its target community. 

The close-knit community of downtown Rogers has welcomed their new neighbors with open arms, said Safreed. 

“I am humbled and honored by the love that we have received. The vibe has been loving and supportive. You expect challenges, but there hasn’t been negativity. 

“Everybody in downtown Rogers has walked up and shook our hand and said, thank you. And these are not LatinX-owned businesses. These businesses have been here for years and are just so excited about what we’re doing.”