Competing for Ethnic Markets in Banking Industry

Competing for Ethnic Markets in Banking Industry

Hiring multi-language speaking staff, creating real time interpretation apps, as well as launching an ethnic bank to serve primarily immigrants, Canadian banking business operators are becoming fiercely competitive to woo business from immigrants.

Aiming to “become a preferred bank for the Chinese community in Canada”, Wealth One Bank of Canada (WOBC) has started its operation in the most Chinese-populated cities of Vancouver and Toronto. It is the first of its kind founded by Chinese investors. Its  service slogan is “same language, better understanding”.

Ming Gu, a senior news producer from Toronto, also a Chinese immigrant who came to Canada in the early ‘90s, has worked on a couple of translation projects for one of the five major banks on its Chinese language websites.

He said that providing ethnic language service is not quite the same as bridging two different banking systems between Canada and an immigrant’s country of origin.

“The banking system in China, as well as its policy and products are very different from Canada’s.  A direct translation of finance-related services into Chinese language might not be helpful for immigrants to understand the Canadian system. For example, it is very critical for banks in Canada to access the credit rating system prior to determine whether an application by a client for a line of credit and how much is approved.  By verifying the Social Insurance Number (SIN) will bring up detailed credit history of the applicant. However, the same prerequisite doesn’t exist in China’s banking system, hence Chinese newcomers do not realize the significance of credit rating,” Gu explained.

Licensed translators who speak Mandarin, Cantonese, Hindi or Punjabi find it easy to get a job nowadays. Maggie Yuan works in a marketing firm of which part of its business is to provide multi-language translation services for mainstream clients’ ethnic marketing materials. The firm has some strong portfolios on launching ethnic market campaigns in Chinese and South Asian communities in the GTA.

“From the economic standpoint, mainstream companies can’t afford to overlook the needs of immigrant communities. For big corporate accounts I have been dealing with, such as in banking, the needs for Chinese language translation have been on the rise. Companies that strategically make diverse investment in a multi-cultural environment will be rewarded with a positive image. This is quite political, but it is   all about business,” Yuan said.

In fact, Canadian big companies have been continually developing faster and more convenient tools to cultivate immigrant clients who have language barrier. Last August, Royal Bank of Canada which already has a Chinese version of its website, introduced a first of its kind language app in North America that links clients with qualified interpreters to conduct banking via real-time video.

Christine Shisler, Senior Director of Cultural Markets of RBC, explained why such a language app makes business sense.

“Regardless of which RBC branch a client visits, we’ll be able to offer service in the language of choice. This is critical in helping our clients, especially newcomers, understand how banking works in Canada.”

Shisler stressed that RBC wants to be the bank that newcomers turn to for all the important firsts, from first bank account to first home purchase. That entails a lot of tailored services with respect to language and cultural background.

Nevertheless, one way to better understand the needs of newcomers, said Shisler, is to be actively involved in the community, such as presentation of the RBC Top 25 Newcomers Awards.  In addition, the RBC Beijing office, for example, will help students and families initiate their financial affairs before they arrive in Canada. This implies a more aggressive business approach that resonates with what Wealth One Bank of Canada is doing, except we start from the country of origin of Chinese customers instead of upon their arrival.



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