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New Banking Program Trains Bilingual Students for Finance Careers

Five Regional Banks Partnered with Howard Community College to Develop Course
Ali participating in the banking and finance course.

Columbia, MD – In his native country of Iran, Ali Fazeli served as the general manager of a major shipping and freight forwarding company, but he wanted a better future for his family. A visit to his sister’s home in Maryland convinced him that America would offer more opportunities—even if it meant that he and his wife, Soraya, an architect, would have to leave their professional careers.

The Fazeli family moved to Ellicott City and found jobs: she at Target, and he as a pharmacy technician. With his daughter in preschool, Fazeli felt it was also time to further his education. He took a major step to reigniting his former career by enrolling this fall in Howard Community College’s inaugural Banking and Finance Training for Bilingual Speakers program.

“I already held an MBA, so I have experience in accounting and financial management,” said Fazeli, who speaks Arabic, Farsi and English. “This class is an opportunity for me to start again in fields I know and learn American banking culture. It’s important that we learn how to communicate with American clients as well as international clients.”

The noncredit Banking and Finance Training program has major benefits for students, as well as the financial institutions who approached Howard Community College about starting a program to train bilingual employees for  American finance careers.

In the banking sector, it is important for employers to hire bilingual and multilingual employees who can communicate and relate to their diverse customer base. Census data shows that 23 percent of Howard County residents speak a language other than English at home.

Banking employees should also possess the financial knowledge and soft skills necessary for high-level customer service. A recent PwC report, Retail Banking 2020, indicated one of the top three priorities for banks in the coming years was “enhancing customer service” and developing models centered around customers, rather than products.

Taking these trends into consideration, five banks that serve this region— M&T Bank, PNC, Sandy Spring Bank, BB&T, and Revere Bank—agreed that Howard Community College was the ideal partner to help train their future workforce. A collaboration emerged through the college’s English Language Center, which enrolls over 2,000 students from 80 different countries. 

An advisory board, made up of representatives from the banks and the college, helped to develop the curriculum that teaches both career and banking skills. The banks also actively participate in the course, sending representatives as guest speakers, engaging in mock interviews with students, and providing networking opportunities.

According to Daniel Schrider, president and CEO of Sandy Spring Bank, “The Bilingual Banking and Finance Program addresses several critical needs, both in our community and industry. Not only does this program help empower and open doors for bilingual individuals, it also promotes careers in banking and financial services.”

A tuition-free class proved an excellent incentive. In the inaugural class, students represented such countries of origin as India, Georgia, Russia, South Korea, Iran, China, Lebanon, and Peru. All the applicants were screened for English proficiency—students are required to have “high intermediate” English proficiency, which is the grammar needed to hold conversations in English. Most have taken and are continuing to take courses at the English Language Center.

The 10-week Banking and Finance Training for Bilingual Speakers program, which began on September 16, has met every Saturday for five hours. In class, students focus on cultural studies, grammar, vocabulary, business idioms, professional writing, and interview skills. Later sessions include guest presenters, mock interviews, and networking with banking professionals.

The in-class sessions will conclude November 18. In early December, students will experience a behind-the-scenes tour of a bank, followed by a recognition ceremony and networking event in January.

“Banks are one of the most important customer-oriented industries in this country,” said Fazeli when reflecting on a recent session with a loan manager. “We learn when we hear from the people who work in the bank and communicate every day with the customers.”

Schrider, who got his higher education start at Howard Community College, added, “This program is helping to build the next generation of banking leaders—who also happen to reflect the diverse communities that we serve. I look forward to seeing how this investment in education will contribute to the success of these inspiring individuals, elevate the banking industry, and ultimately strengthen our local economy.”

After meeting all the standards of the class, students will receive a certificate of completion. The advisory board is discussing the possibility of offering more sections in the future.

“I think in the Baltimore/Washington area that the banks have many job opportunities, including commercial and logistics departments,” said Fazeli, as he thinks ahead to his future. “I am happy to start as a teller, where I’ll work hard and hopefully be a bank manager someday.”

Topics: Career Focus
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