As our communities become more diverse and connected to the global commerce, credit unions will need to ensure they leverage their language skills to remain competitive. Languages are not a “nice-to-have” skill but an absolute necessity for succeeding in diverse markets and reducing risks associated with language miscommunication. Languages will be among the most important skills to develop for many credit unions in our changing economy.
While the United States has historically focused on just speaking English, multilingualism is growing rapidly. From 1980 to 2018, the percentage of multilingual Americans nearly doubled from about 10.68% to about 20.55%. One factor that could explain this is that the United States is generally becoming more diverse. For example, since 2000, more than 109 American counties have become majority non-White. Another potential explanation is the realization that multilingualism, even if English is one’s native language, brings enormous benefits to an ever increasingly globalized economy. The New American Economy think tank produced a study showing that demand for multilingual workers has more than doubled in five years, including for both low- and high-skill positions. Studies in Europe have illustrated the macroeconomic impacts of speaking foreign languages. Switzerland estimates that 10% of its gross domestic product (GDP) is generated from its multilingual skills, while the United Kingdom estimates that a lack of multilingual skills has cost them over 3.5% of its GDP.
Credit unions are perfect examples of institutions that need to develop language skills. They offer complex products and services to consumers to help them achieve their financial goals, and they are focused on serving their communities and members, not shareholders. As our communities become more linguistically diverse, credit unions need to be able to effectively communicate their value in the languages spoken by their members. The large banking institutions understand the value of languages, as the New American Economy report showed that more than a third of Bank of America’s job postings online required foreign languages skills.
There are enormous benefits for credit unions to reach into multilingual markets. I grew up in a majority Latino community, and both of my parents are Latin American immigrants whose first language is Spanish. Firms that could not effectively communicate their value or serve their customers in Spanish did not do well in my community. Immigrant communities in general are underserved by financial institutions. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation reports in 2017 that Latino, African American, and immigrant communities have higher percentages of members being unbanked or underbanked than the overall American population. As the spending power of these communities grows, these markets will only become more lucrative for credit unions.
Ineffective language skills are a major risk to firms and credit unions. The United States Committee on Economic Development estimates language and cultural misunderstandings cost American businesses over $2 billion dollars per year. Due to the complex nature of financial products and services, and the potential detriment they can cause if mismanaged, financial institutions have been held accountable for not providing adequate language services to those who don’t speak English. Wells Fargo was accused of not providing Spanish-speaking loan officers and taking advantage of Spanish-speaking borrowers by steering them to more expensive and higher risk loans.
So how do credit unions effectively leverage their language skills to achieve the benefits mentioned above? Although credit unions can contract for translating services, it is often an expensive option that may not provide the flexibility credit unions need. Instead, credit unions should hire multilingual staff to serve their customers who don’t speak English. How do you ensure that your staff is proficient enough in language to communicate important and complex product information and services? A valid and reliable language proficiency credential from Language Testing International (LTI) will guarantee that candidates have undergone the most rigorous language testing and assessment in the industry. LTI offers language certifications developed by ACTFL that are widely trusted, recognized, and accepted everywhere.
Leveraging language skills will benefit credit unions by being better able to serve their customers, grow into multilingual markets, and reduce their language communication risks. Credit unions should not ignore the importance of language skills if they don’t want to be left behind by their competition.
About Language Testing International
Since 1992, Language Testing International (LTI), a Samsung company, has been the leader in the development of language proficiency testing for more than 120 languages, globally. In partnership with ACTFL, we proudly offer our corporate clients valid and reliable reading, writing, speaking, and listening tests. Each test is designed to properly determine the specific proficiency level of an individual and ultimately to provide a valid and defensible language credential.
From Fortune 500 corporations to small and midsize companies, LTI works closely with your human resources department to identify the appropriate level of language proficiency required for the position you are looking to fill. Once your needs have been identified, we will help you qualify the right candidates with the language skills needed to be successful.
Contact us today for a free consultation on best practices for hiring multilingual talent!
Luis A. Valdez-Jimenez, J.D., M.B.A., is an accomplished legal & business professional with extensive international experience. He serves on the Board of Directors for various community organizations and wants to empower employers and professionals to better serve diverse communities.