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M&T Bank launches bilingual branches in Delaware

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The M&T Bank branch in Elsmere is one of two designated bilingual branches in Delaware serving large Latino populations. | PHOTO COURTESY OF GOOGLE

Analine Ayala is the sole owner, cook, bookkeeper and manager at El Cantaro, her Mexican restaurant in New Castle that she opened in 2018.

Ayala, who primarily speaks Spanish, arrives early to her restaurant every morning to make tortillas and pico de gallo, marinate the meats, and complete other prep work for the day ahead.

Since January 2020, M&T Bank has honed in on residents like Ayala amid the growing Spanish-speaking populations in Delaware, where about one in 10 people is Hispanic or Latino, according to 2019 U.S. Census estimates. That number jumps to 27% in Elsmere, where M&T has a newly designated multicultural branch that Ayala uses for her business.

“We continue to see multicultural communities … opening up more small businesses and opening up accounts,” said David Femi, the head of M&T’s multicultural banking team. “If we don’t take the time to truly, deeply understand their banking behaviors and attitudes, we may not be relevant in this space. Any bank that doesn’t have a multicultural strategy does not have a growth strategy.”

Before Ayala, 43, opened a business account with M&T Bank, she only accepted cash at El Cantaro and struggled to understand English posters in other banks, communicate with a banker about her bookkeeping needs and learn more about short-term loans and other funding options.

M&T helped Ayala set up a credit card processing provider and become more educated on the money market. She said she finally felt comfortable asking questions while visiting her bank.

“It’s a big blessing when [banks] have someone who speaks Spanish,” said Rachael Torres, Ayala’s daughter. “Now she’s happier and open-minded because she has a great team to back her up and get her to understand how everything works.”

Under Femi’s leadership, M&T unveiled a new Spanish-language website where customers can set up online appointments in Spanish and other languages. The bank now has two designated multicultural branches in Delaware Elsmere and Georgetown with bilingual staff and Spanish signage, joining 14 others across M&T’s footprint.

“It gives them access to banking solutions and resources,” Femi said. “When you go into a bank branch and go to someone who speaks your language, who can empower and enlighten you from opening up a checking account to discussing your retirement plan you feel comfortable.”

M&T is also partnering with Delaware State University to identify, train and recruit bilingual and multicultural students to work in its branches.

“Our goal is to eliminate at all costs this language barrier,” Femi said.

The bank’s expanded services are reflective of not only a growing Latino population, but of a surge in business ownership from Delaware residents like Ayala. In Georgetown, where nearly 40% of the population is Hispanic or Latino, 800 Latino-owned businesses were registered in Sussex County as of 2019, compared to just 383 five years prior, according to a Delaware Community Foundation report.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Ayala had to close her restaurant for two months. Her M&T Bank manager in Elsmere made sure she understood how to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan, calling her to check that she was following the required steps of the application and emailing her with links to the proper websites.

“He’s had her back since the beginning,” Torres said of Elsmere’s branch manager, Steven Vivolo. “He was basically her angel since she started here, so she never felt alone.”

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