Mutual fund giants wanting to go after ethnic niches could take a number of lessons from community banks that have thrived for years in this area: Speak to them in their own language, in their own communities.

Community banks’ success has come from offering full multicultural services, from service representatives who speak a foreign tongue, to investment products that cater to each target market’s specific taste and needs, to collateral materials and advertising that appeals to their cultural sensibilities. Most importantly, in every case where community banks have garnered billions of dollars of ethnic group assets, it has primarily been because they have established a visible presence in the communities where these people work and live, according to Andrew B. Collins, an analyst with U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray.

Even the Investment Company Institute seemed to take a page from the success of this one-on-one, local approach with a series of investment seminars for African-Americans, held in collaboration with the National Urban League, in six major cities (see MFMN 9/11/00).

It’s been small banks, like East West of San Francisco – not mutual fund giants like Fidelity or banking leaders like Bank of America – that have blazed the way into the Latino, Asian and African-American communities. East West has Chinese- and English-language Web sites, emphasizes its network of correspondent banks in Asia and continues to expand its presence in local neighborhoods.

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