A trip to Mexico solidified in Gary Head’s mind the need for a Latino-focused bank in northwest Arkansas.
Head is the CEO of Signature Bank of Arkansas and its parent White River Bancshares Co., and he said the Fayetteville-based bank plans to open a brick-and-mortar location to serve the sizable Latino population in east Rogers. Nearly 34% of the city's population identifies as Hispanic or Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The bank's exact location hasn’t been determined or acquired, but Head is already building a team to support the branch. He hired former Walmart executive Francisco Herrero as Signature’s president of multicultural banking.
“We don’t have many locations — generally one in each town — but we want to build a Latino bank in east Rogers and very possibly have other locations similar to that,” Head said. “Rogers was the perfect place to start because they know a lot of people. Our business is about who you know. If people know you and trust you then you have a better chance of doing business with them.
“Anybody can do business there. We want to build a bank that will be for our Latino community.”
Head said he had wanted to do something similar for years. He decided the time was right when he was on vacation this past summer in Cabo San Lucas. His friends were telling him how Americans were buying condos in the area, which made Head wonder: if he wanted to do something like that, how would he be able to communicate effectively with a bank in Mexico?
“I thought to myself, 'If I wanted to buy something, where would I go?' Head said. "How would I borrow the money? Who would I talk to? How in the world could I walk into a bank and not speak any Spanish?”
Signature Bank is working with the Fayetteville talent firm Serve2Perform to find Latino candidates for the community bank boards in each of the cities where Signature Bank is located. Head has named Adam Arroyos, the CEO of Serve2Perform, to the board of directors of White River Bancshares.
Head said the growing Latino population in the area makes the project a sound financial bet but it is also the right thing to do as a community bank. As soon as he announced the initiative, he said several Latino bank employees thanked him in tears.
“Their families would really appreciate the opportunity to walk in and speak Spanish; it’s not very welcoming if you walk in and you get shuttled off somewhere else,” Head said. “We didn’t do this saying we know we’re going to get rich as hell. We’re not doing this as, 'Hey, this is a donation to the planet.' I think there is plenty of business. It has to be done properly and I don’t think it ever has been.
“I bet I’m not the only one doing it before long.”
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Francisco Herrero is from east Rogers.