FirstBank opens Multicultural Banking Center

The center will provide banking services in different languages


Catering to different cultures is nothing new for FirstBank, according to Tony Oum, senior vice president of multicultural banking for the company. It started over 30 years ago when former FirstBank President Ken Chee was leading the company. Chee, who is of Chinese descent, made it a point for the bank to educate non-English speaking Chinese communities in financial literacy during the 1990s.

“It’s our job to educate our communities to be fully aware of banking and to understand the system. That way, they can make the right choice,” said Oum. “We think it’s important.”

Carrying out Chee’s vision, FirstBank, headquartered in Lakewood, has opened its Multicultural Banking Center at 550 S. Wadsworth Blvd. The center is designed to give residents banking services in their preferred language, including in Spanish, Chinese, Mandarin Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Cantonese languages.

Along with banking services, FirstBank’s Multicultural Banking Center will offer networking events, financial literacy classes, and chances for businesses and nonprofits to collaborate on community projects, according to the company.

“FirstBank has historically always unofficially had a focus on African, Hispanic and Asian communities. But this more than anything formalizes that commitment we have with those communities, and it provides a comfortable space for loan officers and others to work out of,” said Felipe Bedón, vice president of multicultural banking for FirstBank. “(The Multicultural Banking Center is) exciting and the beginning of a formalized effort to help and support people of these communities.”

FirstBank estimates that almost 40% of its employees represent different races, ethnicities, military statuses and abilities. Bedón said hiring employees from different backgrounds doesn’t just help the bank’s customers — it creates a small community in the bank.

“When you have people who have your same cultural background, it’s a more friendly workplace,” said Bedón.

According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, in 2015, more than 30% of households that speak only Spanish were unbanked (no use of banking services), compared to only 6.5% of households where Spanish is not the only language spoken.

“Providing information to make decisions in language that is closest to someone’s heart is not just necessary, but the best way to be assured that they are understanding what they are doing,” said Paulina Erices, a member of Adelante Jeffco, a network of community members and organizations that work to identify opportunities and strategies to offer services to Jeffco Latino families. “It makes sense for any organization to provide information in the language people speak. Then, you are truly connecting with the identity of that person.”


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