CFPB’s Uncertain Take on Bilingual Ads Merits Lender Caution

canstockphoto14395059While retailers vie for the buying power of the U.S. Hispanic population ― on track to eclipse $1.5 trillion this year, according to Nielsen ― auto financiers might be better off on the sidelines until regulators reach some decisions about Spanish language advertising.

In a session on fair lending enforcement at the CBA Live conference last month, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Assistant Director Patrice Ficklin tackled an audience question about whether banks should go to the expense of advertising in Spanish.

Here was Ficklin’s response:

One of the efforts that my office is engaged in right now is to be in dialogue with industry and advocates around serving limited English proficiency communities, we call them LEP communities. We’ve been talking with industry counsel, with trade associations, with individual lenders, as well as with advocates and civil rights groups. … Our hope is that we can help in terms of thinking about helping folks navigate what I think is a very tricky path.

I think that there are very important access-to-credit benefits to be gained from efforts to reach limited English proficiency consumers. Their numbers are quite significant in the consumer population. I think there are the realities of finite resources, and I think that lenders struggle with how to approach efforts to penetrate these LEP communities, these LEP market opportunities, in a way that’s responsible and at the same time realistic given budget demands and resource demands of translation and other language and oriented services.

So, we are very interested in trying to see what help and support we can provide in terms of guidance in this area. I think there are some important opportunities to be had with regard to reaching those consumers. I think in terms of the specifics here, in terms of Spanish language advertising, I think that the lenders should be mindful of the potential risks of advertising in one language and not having services available in Spanish so that consumers understand the transaction that they’re entering into, so that consumers have access to help if they run into trouble in that transaction, and really at key decision points along the way.

But, again, our hope is that through dialogue with interested stakeholders we can actually develop, perhaps, some more robust guidance in this area.

A follow-up question related to whether lenders have to completely translate their websites and apps and make all the same functionality available before launching them in another language.

Ficklin’s answer was circumspect:

I think that’s one of the questions we hope to address. I think that if resources were no hindrance, then ideally everything would be in every language ― we’d have Tagalog, we’d have Mandarin, we’d have it all, and every bit of it. But there is the practical reality, so the challenging thing is trying to strike that balance. And that’s where we’re just giving some thoughtful reflection and really some very fruitful dialogue around what the realities are and interested in hearing those experiences of those who’ve tried to navigate this area, interested in advocates who have worked closely with LEP communities, and trying to see what help and guidance we can provide.

The short answer: Ten cuidado ― be careful.

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