Oct 12, 2017
Bilingual bank offers custom debit cards for worker payroll

ChoiceOne Bank in Sparta, Michigan, was recently honored for its efforts to better serve growers and seasonal workers.

The Independent Community Bankers of America recently presented ChoiceOne Bank the 2017 National Community Bank Service Award for broadening access to mainstream financial services for underserved communities.

ChoiceOne Bank is a community bank in West Michigan in the heart of agricultural and farming communities. The Bank serves hundreds of locally owned farms that grow apples, blueberries, peaches, among other crops. Many farms employ seasonal help from Central and South America, resulting in an influx of unbanked and Spanish-speaking consumers. These communities also have many Spanish-speaking permanent residents struggling to get service in Spanish.

Local farmers also struggle to find fast ways to pay their employees as a majority do not have U.S. bank accounts. A common way to pay employees is with paper checks, often cashed at check cashing facilities. Unfortunately, this results in employees keeping large sums of cash with them compromising their safety when crossing the border returning home.

“We had a committee that took the time to learn more about the customers in our communities and how to better serve them,” said ChoiceOne Bank President and CEO Kelly Potes. ChoiceOne Bank saw a need to provide an alternative to check-cashing facilities that often charge high fees to cash checks and send money home.

The Bank now provides direct deposit allowing the employee to withdraw smaller amounts. Employees are offered a free account with customized debit cards allowing withdrawals from Central and South America. As an alternative to a checking account, ChoiceOne partnered with a prepaid payroll card provider and negotiated reduced fees and waives all ChoiceOne ATM withdrawal fees for the cards.

Each year, ChoiceOne processes over 90,000 payroll checks, and moving to an electronic payroll system will save time and money for the employees and farmers.

Employees of ChoiceOne Bank, Sparta, Mich., attend a nine-week conversational Spanish class in order to better serve Spanish-speaking customers.

Bilingual service

In addition to choices for payroll, ChoiceOne provides financial education in Spanish so consumers can learn about their banking options and eliminate misconceptions about banking. ChoiceOne bilingual staff has performed dozens of presentations after hours, at farm locations and other small businesses to educate hundreds of employees about managing their money, explaining checking accounts, training on mobile banking, and addressing questions.

ChoiceOne established a Spanish Speaking Customer Service Line, called the “Hola! Linea.” This is a direct number that rings bilingual employees and is answered in Spanish. It is available to customers that prefer speaking Spanish and used when a bilingual banker is unavailable.

ChoiceOne sponsored a nine-week class after hours where 20 ChoiceOne employees learned Spanish and learned about cultural diversity. ChoiceOne also underwent upgrades to their voice banking and consumer loan applications to offer a Spanish option.

“This was a bank-wide effort for over a year and hundreds of hours,” Potes said. “Many farms signed up for direct deposit, with the potential to reach hundreds of employees during the summer. These options and programs created a bank-wide awareness of diversity within communities and is a great example of our dedication to making ALL customers feel welcome.”

Independent Community Bankers of America President and CEO Camden R. Fine said the ChoiceOne’s efforts show the industry’s philanthropic spirit and can-do attitude.

“Community service and volunteerism lie at the heart of community banking—it’s what community banks do; it’s what community banking is about,” Fine said.

Above: Heading the ChoiceOne Outreach Committee are President and CEO Kelly Potes, Vice President CRA Officer and Regional Managers Patricia Brown, Mortgage Lender Carmen Villahermosa de Cox, and Vice President of Business Development Bonnie Koehn.

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75 Applewood Drive, Suite A
P.O. Box 128
Sparta, MI 49345
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