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Bringing in the unbanked

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Bringing in the Unbanked 32 R e g i o n F o c u s • Wi n t e r 2 0 0 7 Telenovelas, or Spanish-language soap operas, arewildly popular among Hispanics. They typically tell the story of a poor but beautiful girl who falls in love with a rich, handsome young man, and the story unfolds with every design imaginable to keep them apart, usually plotted by the fellow’s schem- ing family and ex-fiancé. Telenovelas have such a fervent following that when BB&T Corp. decided to produce a set of tapes for its Hispanic banking customers, it made sense to follow this genre. Except that the heroine of BB&T’s telenovela series, Beatriz Bienvenido Torres, or “Bibi,” is far from being love struck. Bibi, a long-time resident of the United States and a BB&T Bank employee, is a trusted friend of recent immigrants Juan and Maria Perez. The series is about the couple’s adventures of living in a new country and how Bibi is always on hand to give them advice — from how to call 911 to how to get a mortgage. The tapes are distributed through nonprofit organizations such as Latino advocacy groups and are available at the bank’s branches. BB&T is just one of the many banks that aim to bring the “unbanked”— those who do not have bank accounts — into the fold. Who are the unbanked? About 46 percent of blacks and 34 percent of Hispanics born in the United States are unbanked compared with 14 percent of whites, according to a Kansas City Fed report. Among immigrants, 53 percent of Mexicans and 37 percent of other Latin American immigrants are unbanked, compared with 20 percent of immigrants from Asia and 17 per- cent from Europe. People who forego bank accounts — regardless of whether they are white, black, Hispanic or any other ethnic group — generally have low incomes. There simply isn’t much left over for savings at the end of each month, and the cost of a bounced check sometimes doesn’t make a bank account worthwhile. For these people, payday lenders and similar organiza- tions present an attractive opt

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