By Isidore Dorpenyo, Meghalee Das, Chris Dayley, Aimee Kendall Roundtree, and Miriam F. Williams
Purpose: This study examined immigrants’ perceptions of their interactions with financial institutions and asked if U.S. immigrants are considered in these institutions’ formal statements on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
Method: We interviewed 13 participants and also conducted a content analysis of the DEI statements of the top nine U.S. banks. In addition to content analysis, we also used text mining to gain further information on the key themes prevalent in the diversity statements of the financial institutions.
Results: Our findings show a clear disconnect between the top U.S. banks’ DEI statements and the lived experiences of immigrants. For instance, banks had oppressive banking processes that makes it difficult for immigrants to open accounts. We also identified lack of communication channels.
Conclusion: As calls for diversity, equity, and inclusion in our field grow, we must pay attention to material conditions of immigrant students/scholars in Technical and Professional Communication (TPC) academic programs. Immigrants interviewed in this study wanted clarity about which documents they need to submit to banks, accurate translation of bank-related documents, and detailed explanations of banking industry jargon.
Keywords: Immigrants; DEI; Banking; Content Analysis; Text Mining
- This study reveals many of the challenges immigrants encounter with U.S. banking institutions and opportunities for technical communicators to help banks treat immigrants with dignity and respect.
- Technical communicators have the skills and tools to involve immigrants and other stakeholders in efforts to move U.S. banking institutions beyond DEI statements to socially just action.
- The article emphasizes the importance of using inclusive language, especially on websites, which professional and business communicators can review, test with a multicultural customer base, and make modifications with, if necessary. The article also makes practical suggestions which practitioners can benefit from, such as offering alternative forms of identification that can be accepted for non-residents to open bank accounts.
In the wake of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and subsequent nationwide protests against police violence in the summer of 2020, multinational and national institutions and organizations in the United States created, revised, and updated diversity, equity, and inclusion statements to make public their support for anti-racist and social justice movements. On social media and in academic circles, some readers of these statements critiqued these moves as performative and encouraged organizations to implement actionable anti-racist policies and procedures against white supremacy within their organizations and beyond. During this same summer, the Trump administration proposed an international student policy that would have an immediate impact on immigrant students who were taking online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, if visa-holding college students were only enrolled in online classes, which were the norm during the COVID-19 pandemic, these students would have to leave the country. Though the policy was ultimately rescinded, other anti-immigrant U.S. policies and practices persist. Thus, debates about anti-immigrant policies in the United States in the midst of the creation, revision, and updating of diversity and inclusion statements raise questions about who is included and/or excluded from institutions when they discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion.
While technical communication scholars have accurately defined social justice in technical communication (Agboka, 2014) and identified frameworks to study technical communication (Walton et al., 2019), few studies have demonstrated how forms of oppression and exclusion in technical communication are exacerbated by one’s status as a person of color who is also an immigrant (Phillips & Deleon, 2022; Walwema & Chamichael, 2021). We need only recount the historical and recent xenophobic and nationalist laws in Europe and the United States to understand the depth and reach of white supremacist policies and practices.
In the U.S., immigrants have more complex interactions with banking institutions than U.S. citizens. Also, access to banking services is an important factor in being able to live, work, and pursue a degree in the United States. For these reasons, we selected financial services institutions in the United States as a site to explore the unique experiences of immigrants of color. Specifically, we are concerned about immigrants’ perceptions of their interactions with financial institutions and if immigrants are considered in these institutions’ formal statements on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The Brookings Institution and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago reported on the importance of recognizing the challenges immigrants face when attempting to establish financial security and stability in the United States (Paulson et al., 2006). Paulson et. al (2006) focused on safety issues faced by undocumented immigrants who are “unbanked” because they use alternative banking services due to lack of identification or lack of trust in banking. Paulson et. al. (2006) explain how some Texas law enforcement agencies and the Mexican Consulate worked together to encourage all banks in Austin, Texas, to accept Matricula Consular cards, a Mexican Consulate-issued identification card, for immigrants from Mexico (p. 66). Although these types of local efforts are important, they do not address obstacles faced by immigrants who do attempt to obtain financial services but are denied equal access to services due to discriminatory policies and practices (tacit or explicit) beyond identification cards. In this study, we explore ways that banks in the United States might make explicit efforts to include immigrants in discussions of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
This study is unapologetically concerned with the lived experiences of immigrants of color, who face discrimination due to their national origin and must also deal with white supremacy. While some immigrants from majority countries may identify as white and not as people of color, this study refers to those immigrants who do identify as people of color and are also perceived as such in the United States. Immigrants are not a homogenous group and have complex identities, with differences in race, ethnicity, cultural norms, and languages spoken. But many immigrants of color are from majority countries, and no matter how they perceive themselves, they can be subjected to racial or linguistic bias. In the United States, immigrants and multilinguals must negotiate their lived experiences. Technical and professional communication (TPC) scholars have examined these experiences, which include negotiation of communication practices (Gonzales, 2018), work authorization (Walwema & Chamichael, 2021), health insurance (Rose et al., 2017) and asylum status (Sims, 2022). There is little research about how immigrants negotiate their lived experience with the financial institutions in the United States.
Studies on Banking Statements and Social Responsibility
While much research has been conducted regarding financial services industry documents, few studies examine DEI statements in banking. For the purpose of this study, diversity and inclusion activities and statements can be likened to general corporate social responsibility statements (CSRs). Although these statements traditionally discuss a different subject matter—namely, the institution’s stance on global warming, climate change, and environmental sustainability—they share with diversity and inclusion activities an underlying goal of demonstrating the financial institution’s ethical, social, and cultural positioning. A case study of corporate social responsibility statements found that employees use formal reporting, informal internal communication, and organizational culture to understand CSRs (Miller 2018). They perceive CSRs as obligatory and superficial to demonstrate corporate philanthropy. Another study used corpus linguistic tools to analyze climate change in corporate social responsibility and environmental reports of major oil companies from 2000 to 2013 (Jaworska 2018). The sample included 119 stand-alone reports, 175 relevant chapters, and 14,806,512 words. The study found a shift from portraying climate change as addressable (before the mid-2000s) to portraying climate change as an unpredictable future force, thereby downplaying the financial sector’s own complicity in environmental degradation. Another study analyzed the DEI initiatives of banks, including their statements and actions, after the murder of George Floyd, and the impact it had on how corporations talk about and act on DEI priorities (Hoffman, 2021). The article interviewed bank executives and used key quotes from the DEI statements and said that the resultant response was “more of an empathy shock for many bankers, who might not have realized how deep racial disparities are” (p. 29). But they acknowledged that they had a long way to go to achieve economic and social justice and wanted customers to know that their DEI statements and actions were not just a trendy development (Hoffman, 2021). Our study extends this work by examining the diversity activities from the perspective of the target customer and constituent. We chose to analyze DEI statements, as they are the primary documents that reflect an organization’s commitment to diversity and outlines their values as well as any actions taken by them. In our content analysis of DEI statements, we will also call attention to whose interests are highlighted or downplayed in financial institution’s DEI statements.
Other studies of financial sector communication focus on genres. Annual reports are among the most common genres studied. A regression analysis of 80 stock exchange reports recommending to “buy,” “hold,” or “sell” shares found that investors’ reactions were stronger when the reports used first person pronouns and verbs (Klimczak & Dynel, 2018). Positive and negative markers depended on whether the report recommended to “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.” Mitigation strategies such as hedges were used more for “hold” than “buy” recommendations. Subjectivization such as first person, related to company share prices, was used frequently for “hold” recommendations with prices. Subjectivization was also used frequently for “sell” recommendations, leading to a share price decrease.
A linguistic corpus content analysis of annual reports from a purposive sample of Standard & Poor’s 500 corporations identified 35 narrative strategies expressing certainty, optimism, activity, realism, and commonality (Laskin, 2018). Top performing companies stressed their achievements, and low performing companies emphasized assurance and commonalities with top performers. An analysis of four annual reports found they were all multimodal (text and figures) and hedged assumptions (Lejeune, 2018). They offered projections without attribution, rather than direct predictions. Predictions and projections also varied between reports from different countries. What types of predictions, projections, or promises do financial services DEI statements make and do these statements make any references to the concerns of immigrants of color?
Again, though not directly related to DEI, other genres also emerge from the literature. A rhetorical analysis of 13 disclosure policies on investor relations websites of listed companies found that the policies used consistent genre patterns to address requirements of authorities—explaining what the disclosure is about, declaring compliance with regulations, and proclamation of the company principles followed (Koskela, 2018). Each disclosure contained company-specific rhetorical moves. To portray a rhetorically convincing image, transparency characterizations need to reflect the company strategy. A discourse analysis of 435 press releases of public authorities in Sweden during a financial crisis between 2008 and 2010 found an array of responses, from simplicity and clarity to complexity and strategic ambiguity (Johansson & Nord, 2018). A textual analysis examined JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo’s news releases, annual reports, and a shareholder annual letter and found that they used bolstering and image repair strategies to reaffirm their social responsibility (Hearit, 2018). The messaging also stressed stability, success, and community involvement/giving. They emphasized their handle on the way forward. Still other technical communication research investigates industry codes of ethics that, on their face, attend to social responsibility and corporate-community relations, but that do not outline specific courses of ethical interactions or strategies for maintaining transparency and responsibility to the community (Roundtree, 2022). These studies set the groundwork for explaining the limitations of corporate and industry communication as it pertains to social dimensions. Our project extends this work by examining a particular vulnerable subpopulation with much at stake and at play in their industry and corporate interactions.
Prior studies in technical communication of banking messages show the importance of banking communication and the technical communicator’s role in aiding clarity and transparency. A study of 90 corporate social responsibility reports in energy and banking found cross-cultural variations in the rhetorical moves made, but a tendency to use future rather than present tense was used to promote corporate image (Yu & Bondi, 2019). Our project extends this work by providing a reception analysis from the banking consumer’s perspective. Another study of Fortune 500 corporate mission statements including banks found that the higher performing the company, the greater attention the language showed to accommodating the public, satisfying employees, and other relationships (Jung & Pomper, 2014). Our study extends this work by examining DEI statements, another emerging and important genre for banks in creating social consciousness, social responsibility, and corporate image.
Why Immigrants of Color?
We see our work as an extension of and a response to the invitation offered by several predecessors in technical communication to examine our points of communication, interaction, and translation using a social justice lens. Two special issues in our field most strongly opened this invitation. First, in a special issue on social justice, guest editors Agboka and Dorpenyo (2022) made a powerful call for TPC scholars to consider injustice everywhere. In response, four authors in this issue focused their studies on the vital concerns of immigrants and international students. Sims (2022) analyzed the U.S. Asylum seeking application document, I-589, using plain language guidelines proposed by Jones and Williams (2017) and identified that the document failed to accommodate the needs of its audiences both on the design and linguistic levels. According to Sims (2022), the document suffers “from imprecise headings followed by unrelated content; poor visual appeal exacerbated by long, complex sentences and ineffective lists; over-utilization of cross-references; and repetitive information” (p. 22). The document’s language choice, Sims reveals, is also heavily laden with legal jargon and this reduces or does not properly consider the vulnerable and traumatized experiences of applicants. Sims encourages technical communicators to communicate with vulnerable individuals in a more respectful and dignified way and reminds technical communicators that our primary goal is to value human experience over institutional ideologies. She articulates the need for the field to integrate plain language and human-centered design practices in practice and pedagogy if we want to design socially just documents that “balance the needs of vulnerable audiences with the interests of powerful stakeholders” (p. 11). In the same special issue, Phillips and Deleon (2022) indicate that international students do not find it easy when they come to pursue higher education in the United States. They describe the oppressive structures that first-generation Latinx students, for instance, have to endure when they arrive in the United States to pursue higher education. They also show us how they negotiate their lived experiences by building coalitions and taking actions that are culturally informed and “tactical decision-making” (p. 197) that enabled them to recognize, reveal, reject, and replace (Walton et al., 2019) the oppressive structures that marginalize them.
Second, another special issue by Savage and Agboka (2015) issued another call to social justice in technical communication to which our work responds. Considering that professional and technical communication practitioners work across the globe, it is quite disappointing that most of the conversations about social justice occur in the developed world or the Global North, also known as minority countries, per Pflugfelder et al. (2023), who recast the terms to show the reality of shared struggles and experiences of the majority of the world’s population as opposed to the minority of countries and global citizens with the most economic means. In response, Savage and Agboka (2015) edited a special issue that focused on socially unjust practices in the Global South, or what Pflugfelder et al. (2023) call the majority countries. They indicated the special issue sought “to encourage scholarly discussions and publications about the important role of professional and technical communication in the Global South or majority countries; promote communication practices that project and advance issues about populations within the Global South or majority countries, and provide resources (e.g., theories, methods, and cases) for addressing the challenges raised by research in and about the Global South” (p. 10). The contributors to the special issue paid attention to various forms of injustice in the Global South/majority countries and worked toward the important goal of magnifying the agency of vulnerable populations.
Walwema (2021) skillfully described the historical concerns of TPC over the years from our concerns with defining good technical communication, to ethical concerns, to international technical communication, and now to issues of diversity, inclusion, and social justice. Walwema (2021) argues that to effectively examine issues of racism and diversity, we must be willing to identify research trajectories that will help us confront the history of racism in the United States. As this trajectory relates to banking, our field includes studies on the realities of the long history of racist banking practices (Williams, 2006; Jones & Williams, 2017), but we have yet to examine how these practices affect the lived experiences of people who are immigrants, multilinguals, and people of color. Additionally, two authors of this study, Isidore Dorpenyo and Meghalee Das are immigrants of color, who experienced various problems that limited or hindered their access to banking services. This particularly motivated them to conduct a scholarly investigation into the issue and to create space for other immigrants of color to share their experiences, which may result in recommendations for banks to create more equitable practices and policies. In this study, we extend the field’s exploration of this industry by examining 1) immigrants’ responses to their interactions with U.S. banks and 2) if banking institution’s DEI statements include immigrants.
We understand immigrant, person of color, and majority/minority world or country of origin as different but intersectional vectors. We use the definition of intersectional from Crenshaw, namely exploring the ways that different forms of bias and inequality compound themselves and create new, unique challenges (Crenshaw, 2013). We also understand intersectionality in technical communication through Rodriguez—namely, how race, ethnicity, and other identities interact in the technical communication classroom (Rodriguez, 2021). We extend this work by examining intersectionality as it pertains to banking, another technical communication setting. We understand immigrant as non-citizens of the U.S. We understand persons of color as those from different racial backgrounds. We understand minority world as a more accurate term for what was called Western, Global North, first-world, or developed countries with more wealth and economic means than others. Majority world, in turn, refers to the Global South, developing countries, or third-world countries in prior literature. These terms interplay and intersect with one another. For example, if immigrants are persons of color and immigrants, they might face similar stigmatization and disparity as might U.S. citizens who are persons of color. If persons of color are citizens of minority countries, then they might not face the strict banking limitations in their country as do immigrants in their country. Immigrants from minority countries might also escape the strict banking limitations in other minority countries, and they might also escape stigma and racism if they are not people of color.
For the purposes of this project, we specifically attend to immigrant populations of color, given the compounding inequities that they face in banking. From an intersectional perspective, countries of origin create economic, material differences in customer bases. Then, race compounds it. The opposite applies as well. Race creates difference, and country of origin can compound it. Race and country of origin create an interesting vortex that amplifies the difference created by both. For example, White South Africans would have a very different banking experience in the United States than Black South Africans. And Black South Africans might have a very different banking experience in America than Black Americans or than their second-generation children. In the case of banking in the United States, social stigma pertaining to race might change not only customers’ perception of banking transactions, but it might also affect banking employees’ perceptions of the transaction. Then, to complicate matters more, customers with accents would be perceived differently as well. The origin of the accent would matter as well, as would current relations between the country of origin and the United States. We agree with Crenshaw that not even banking transactions can escape these dynamics to varying degrees of intensity and implication.
In this study, we aim to add to TPC research about the lived experiences of immigrants by exploring the following questions:
R1: What are immigrants of colors’ perceptions of their interactions with financial institutions?
R2: In what ways do financial institutions address the unique experiences of immigrants of color in DEI statements?
R3: How do these interactions (i.e., the lived experiences of immigrants of color and official DEI communication from the institutions) expose the various forms of oppression immigrants of color encounter with financial institution?
To answer our first research question, we interviewed 13 participants and conducted a content analysis and text mining of the DEI statements of the top nine U.S. banks, which we selected based on their assets. In the subsequent sections, we describe how we selected the banks and our interview participants. We also describe our analytical method for both the DEI statements and the interviews. We remind our readers that this research was approved by the Institutional Review Boards at George Mason (IRB# 1713853-1) and at Texas State University (IRB# 7635).
To investigate our first research question, we interviewed 13 participants: Jennifer, Joanna, Francis, Theophilus, Rosemary, Jasmine, Monica, Roselyn, Maxwell, Emmanuel, Sandra, Teresa, and Sampson (all participants’ names are pseudonyms). Each participant identified as an immigrant residing in the United States. To recruit participants for the study, a list was created of potential participants based on the personal connections of the researchers. We reached out to people we knew from our network of colleagues whom we knew to be international immigrants. Since all researchers on this project are in the academy (four professors and one PhD candidate), we contacted colleagues we knew from graduate school and our institutions. We also encouraged our colleagues to share our call for research participants with colleagues or their acquaintances. This snowballing approach proved useful. For instance, Theophilus agreed to be interviewed for this project when he was contacted by one of the researchers. After the interview, he spoke to his wife (Joanna) about the interview, and she also agreed to participate. After the conversation with Joanna, she also said she knew someone (Jasmine) who would be interested in this project and sent the call-to-participate statement to her. Isidore also reached out to Jasmine later and she agreed to participate. Those who agreed to participate in an interview were then assigned to one of the researchers to conduct the interview.
Eight (8) of the thirteen (13) study participants indicated that they were from Ghana. Of those from Ghana, one was from Tamala, one was from Ho, three were from Accra, and two did not indicate a specific city in Ghana they were from. One of the participants from Ghana reported that they obtained their master’s degree from Norway. The remaining participants indicated they were from Beijing (China), Delhi (India), Mérida (Mexico), Nepal (no specific city was given), and Yucatan (Mexico). Of the 13 participants, 8 identified as women and 5 as men. All 13 participants had a college degree broken down as follows: 7 had received PhDs; 2 were PhD candidates; 2 were master’s degree holders; and 2 were bachelor’s degree holders. Each participant was interviewed over Zoom. Interview questions (See Appendix A) came from a list of interview questions developed by the researchers. Each interview lasted between 30 and 60 minutes. Interviews were recorded with permission. The interview recordings were professionally transcribed, and the resulting documents were used in data analysis. Interview data was analyzed using both prefigured and emergent codes (Crabtree & Miller, 1992, p. 151). Each interview transcript was broken down into prefigured codes based on the interview questions. From there, emergent codes were created based on emerging themes identified in each prefigured section. Two of the researchers developed codes using this method independently and met together to confirm that their coding was accurate.
Content Analysis of Diversity and Inclusion Statements
To examine our second research question, we used content analysis of the DEI statements of the nine financial institutions we selected and confirmed the findings of the content analysis with text mining. For this article, we limited our analysis to nine (9) banks. We based our selections on the “Top 10 biggest banks by assets” listed by Insider Intelligence (2023), a research organization which provides its clients with forecasts, analysis, and benchmarks on how to conduct business in the digital world. The nine banks we selected were Bank of New York Mellon, Truist Bank, JPMorgan Chase Bank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, PNC Bank, Citi Bank, US Bank, and TD Bank. Capital One bank was not included because, during the data collection period, the researchers were unable to locate their DEI statements online.
After selecting banks to study, we visited each of their websites, and copied and pasted information from the banks’ “mission,” “diversity statement,” “culture,” “governance,” and “about us”’ sections into an Excel spreadsheet. We performed a content analysis of the information we pasted in the Excel spreadsheet. Content analysis is a systematic, inductive, and rigorous process used to analyze documents obtained or generated during research. The researcher uses analytic constructs or “rules of inference to move from the text to the answers to the research question” (White & Marsh, 2006, p. 27). The researcher, thus, reads through the data to determine the big picture that emerges from coding for key phrases and text segments that correspond to the questions, notes, and other subtle information that seems important and/or unexpected. After gathering the data from the banks’ websites, we analyzed the data in the spreadsheet to find patterns or codes. Here, we use “codes” to mean “a word or short phrase that symbolically assigns a summative … attribute for a portion of language-based or visual data” (Saldana, 2009, p. 3). After a thorough discussion about how to analyze the data, Isidore Dorpenyo and Meghalee Das were assigned to do the coding. We made this decision based on the fact that we wanted to limit the number of codes generated and also bring focus and a systematic organization to the analysis. We acknowledged that if all five authors on this project completed the analysis, we might come up with a lot of codes, which may be difficult to control or organize. We also found value in the fact that the two researchers coding the DEI statements had experience interacting with banking institutions as international students and faculty. With this understanding, Isidore Dorpenyo and Meghalee Das did an inductive reading of the diversity statements. While coding, we kept our research questions and the purpose of the article in mind. This was especially important because we analyzed the interview data before conducting the textual analysis of the DEI data. This was done to find out how banks’ diversity statements responded to some of the concerns of our interview participants. For instance, how did the banks implicitly/explicitly create an inclusive work environment? How did they communicate about diverse leadership? What are the commitments of the banks toward diversity and how did they align with interviewees’ interests or conflict with what participants expected? We conducted the coding in two rounds: an initial stage and a second round of coding.
Initial and Second Coding
Isidore Dorpenyo and Meghalee Das read the spreadsheet data and coded the diversity statements of the nine banks. Isidore did the first round of reading and came up with 9 codes and passed them to Meghalee, who came up with her codes as well. We found out that most of their codes and themes were similar, and needed only minor modifications as we organized these codes. For instance, Meghalee had a code “hiring practices” while Isidore had “recruitment practices.” When we met for the second round of coding, we decided to keep Meghalee’s code because it captured or summed up a broader array of areas whereas Isidore had them as single codes. Meghalee also came up with three additional codes: core values, initiatives, which connected with Isidore’s “action plan,” and diversity in national/international demographics (Table 1).
When we met for the second round of coding, we had several negotiations, which led us to revise and organize our codes, and, we came up with these overarching themes: mission and values; inclusive strategies (included action plan, initiatives, addressing structural barriers, and future plans); inclusive workforce (including recruitment practices, workforce demographics); inclusive environment (including inclusive culture/environment, welcoming environment for customers, inclusive office design); and leadership (including diverse leadership/government). Table 2 lists the themes, followed by an explanation and our insights into these themes.
Text Mining of Diversity and Inclusion Statements
We used text mining to gain further information on the key themes prevalent in the diversity statements of the financial institutions. Combined with the data from our manual content analysis and participant interviews, these emerging themes helped us gain better insight into whether the DEI claims of financial institutions align with their actions, and the resultant experiences immigrants have with these financial institutions. We build on TPC research on big data and text mining (Graham et al., 2015; Frith, 2017; Roundtree, 2019), intersectionality (Gonzales, 2019; Medina & Haas, 2018), and research that addresses immigrant status and social justice (Johnson et al., 2008; Balzhiser et al., 2019; Walwema, 2021), to examine the diversity and inclusion statements for 100 additional banks. Text mining helped us trace the themes from the close reading of the top 9 banks in a set of 100 random banks identified from the first 100 diversity statements of financial institutions retrieved from a Google search. The sample included 100 statements (766 pages). We used Orange and LIWC for text mining. Orange is an open-source machine learning and data visualization software. LIWC is a software that analyzes word use and sentiment.
Results of Content Analysis of Diversity Statement from Selected Banks
Mission and values
As we studied the diversity statements of nine banks, the most recurring and prominent theme emerging in our analysis was banks’ stating their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, also evident in their mission and core values. For example, in Table 2, we find banks like Truist, JPMorgan, and US Bank prioritizing equitable outcomes, fostering inclusion and committing to diversity in both core values and practices. These banks also stated that they consider diversity a crucial part of their company identity: US Bank claimed embracing diversity is a “fundamental part of everything that makes us who we are” and Citibank claimed diverse teams, ideas and possibilities help them drive growth and progress because it’s “a key part of who we are and how we thrive.” Additionally, Bank of New York Mellon states that they are committed to inclusivity on a global level by valuing differing perspectives, backgrounds and experiences and building a team that “represents the increasingly varied markets and clients we serve.”
This theme encompasses all the different tangible initiatives and practices, as well strategies that banks state that they have developed, executed, or planned to execute to address structural barriers and foster inclusion and diversity. For example, TD Bank provides experiential STEM learning opportunities for youth, especially young women, to help build skills and empower them to participate in the workforce; US Bank is invested in creating “stable jobs, better homes and vibrant communities;” and JPMorgan acknowledges the structural barriers that have created racial inequalities and wealth gap in the United States and commits to investing $30 billion “to drive an inclusive recovery, support employees and break down barriers of systemic racism.”
Inclusive workforce national origin
Most of the banks we studied outlined how diversity and inclusion informed their recruitment practices. For example, Bank of America discussed how they were “focused on attracting, retaining and developing diverse talent” in their global workforce; TD Bank recognized the importance of having diverse employees for continued success and to “drive innovation and creative collaboration;” and Citi Bank was “focused on continually refining how we embed diversity into our recruiting efforts globally.” PNC Bank has various multicultural initiatives like bilingual employees, customized bilingual signage and digital content, ATMs with 10 or more languages, and Spanish and English audio capabilities for the visually impaired.
Banks state that they prioritize creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for employees and customers. Wells Fargo focuses on workforce diversity and inclusion to create a “culture with inclusive policies and programs that attract, develop, engage, and retain the best talent;” PNC Bank encourages employees “to bring their whole selves to work and to share their diverse ideas and backgrounds” which they think is crucial to delivering exceptional customer service; and US Bank uses surveys, Business Resource Groups, and education opportunities to learn about the community. Diversity and inclusion values guide TD Bank to support customers, workforces, and communities, where the bank also applies accessible building designs to maintain a welcoming, barrier-free culture.
Although the diversity statements focused more on company values and initiatives related to the workforce, community, and customer, they briefly mentioned how leadership strategies are also informed by the overall goal of fostering diversity in the organization. For example, Citibank mentioned how their leadership team represented the wide-ranging demographics of their employees, which included Black people, Asians, military veterans, women, disabled people, people with Hispanic/Latino heritage, and those of the LGBTQ community. More detailed descriptions of leadership strategies are available in the leadership and governance documents of these banks.
Results from Text Mining
Text mining mirrored content analysis findings. Diversity (n=1577), inclusion (n=1122), equity (n=334), and access (n=149) were important reoccurring text themes in the diversity and inclusion statements for 100 banks analyzed. Topic modeling using latent semantics indexing confirmed that diversity and inclusion were topic keywords that determined all text clusters. Work (n=330), employees (n=424), and women (n=436) were also important designates of a third text grouping. Policies (n=302) emerged as a unique topic keyword for a fourth text cluster; gender (n=235), a fifth; technology (n=47), a sixth. Specific actions such as products and services supporting these efforts (n=46), and employee resource groups (n=39) were mentioned less frequently and not enlisted in topic models. The statements mentioned communities that the financial institutions served (n=672)—including mentioning Asian (n=35), Black or African (n=163), Hispanic or Latinx (n=85), native or indigenous groups (n=37), different sexual orientation (n=47), communities with disabilities (n=81), race (n=85), ethnicity (n=44), sexuality or LGBTQ+ (n=55), and different religions (n=40)—without detailing plans or strategies for the specific communities, ethnicities, races, and other intersectional identities in question. Banks used first person plural—we (n=1515) to outline their policy, thereby conveying a personal approach to the messaging. There were only 23 mentions of international concerns and only one explicit mention of immigration. Bank rhetoric acknowledged the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion, but access was not as prominent a theme. The statements often mentioned the workplace and employees as a vehicle for supporting DEI, and they recognized the wide range of diverse communities, but they did not specify activities or strategies for promoting DEI. Finally, they referenced their policies as an important mechanism for supporting DEI. Overall, the random sample of bank statements were strong in statements of equitable outcomes and diverse workforce and environment. However, they were light on strategies, although they referenced their policies as a potential vehicle for accomplishing DEI objectives.
Results of Participant Interviews
As indicated above, the DEI statements posted on the website of financial institutions paint a neat and tidy commitment to diversity, inclusion, and excellence, but conversations with interview participants reveal some uncomfortable issues that immigrants face in their dealings with banks: lack of proper intercultural communication with immigrants, access to banking tied to the status of an individual in this country, lack of proper explanation of immigration terms, lack of representation of immigrants, and information overload. In general, participants in this study recommend broad areas that banks and financial institutions can improve upon if they really want to demonstrate their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We present a summary of immigrant concerns and recommendations to banks in Table 3, which is followed by a more comprehensive discussion of problems participants in this study communicated.
Theme 1: Oppressive banking process that makes it difficult to open accounts
Out of the 13 participants, 11 of them reported their frustration with banks regarding the documents and paperwork required of immigrants. Most of the participants said that banking is too tied to immigration status, which makes it difficult for immigrants to open accounts or enjoy equal access to banking. Jennifer stated that immigrants’ problems with banks are “systemic. It’s completely a system. It’s coming from the day you enter the United States and what kind of status you’re coming in.” This participant discussed how she had to wait for four years before she could open a bank account because she arrived in the United States on an H-4 visa. This visa status meant that she had to depend on her husband, whom she joined here, to do everything for her. She explained, “I was completely dependent on my husband for everything. That was both humiliating for a person who has degrees. And the United States has this mandate that unless you have a work visa, you cannot apply for your social security number.” Jennifer is referring to the fact that one must have a job offer to be able to apply for a social security number, which is difficult for those on H-4 visas, which have various employment restrictions. She desperately wanted to open an account but none of the banks gave her the opportunity to do so. She described this process as an abuse and stated, “One is subjected to so many kinds of abuse coming from the system. So, it’s more systemic than a problem of a particular institution.” Roselyn also describes an experience she and her husband had when they attempted to open an account with American Savings Express Bank. She recalled that one of the requirements for the bank is that one has to be “a U.S. citizen or a resident alien.” Francis also reveals how Bank of America has a space for people who are opening their account to indicate whether they are citizen or resident alien.
Theme 2: Lack of Proper Communication Channels
Emmanuel explained how lack of proper or better communication led to the closure of his account. He opened an account online and submitted all of his documents (I-20, passport, admission letter, etc.) online, “but you didn’t get the sense that I needed to take all these other documents again … and go to the banking hall later to have the account certified that you have actually opened it.” He later realized that his account had been canceled after he unsuccessfully tried to make some transactions. He called the bank and they told him “the account was closed because I didn’t go to the bank itself to certify with the physical copies of the account that has been opened. And it was just frustrating.” Roselyn sums up the call for better communication, in this way: “If they would do a better job communicating their other products, targeting, or even just what does it mean to have checking, or credit–more like even educational workshops for immigrants … some type of even a glossary.”
Discussion and Implications of Study
This study reveals many of the challenges immigrants encounter with U.S. banking institutions and opportunities for technical communicators to help banks treat immigrants with dignity and respect. The results of this study reveal that, despite extensive and detailed diversity statements, the banking sector is still a site of injustice, dehumanization, and marginalization. The interviews with immigrants of color and our content analysis of the banks’ DEI statements show a clear disconnect between the top U.S. banks’ DEI statements and the lived experiences of immigrants, many of whom do not believe they have received equitable and inclusive treatment in their interactions with banks in the United States.
As mentioned previously, the most prominent theme that emerged from our analysis of bank diversity statements was their claims to commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In our analysis of diversity and inclusion statements we observed that “banks like Truist, JPMorgan, and US Bank claim to prioritize equitable outcomes, fostering inclusion, and committing to diversity in both core values and practices.” However, based on our interviews with immigrants, too often the practice of fostering equitable outcomes and inclusive practices does not seem to extend to immigrants. Many of the immigrants we interviewed mentioned the difficulty they had in understanding the banking process. Having come from another country with a different banking system, these immigrants would naturally have a difficult time navigating the U.S. banking system. This difficulty represents a real barrier to equity and inclusion for immigrants.
Another important aspect of the DEI statements we analyzed was the emphasis on how crucial diversity is to the culture of banks. Most of the DEI statements we analyzed included national origin as part of their definition of diversity. This is important because mentioning national origin specifically means that the bank is acknowledging that they desire immigrants as customers. However, as pointed out by our interview participants, some of the strategies used by banks to foster inclusion did not address their unique needs.
Furthermore, while both banks and their international customers prioritize equitable outcomes and recognized policies as an important mechanism for fulfilling the promise of DEI, immigrant clients claimed that some policies caused disparity rather than diminished it.
Each of the banks we studied mentioned some kind of strategy and/or initiative aimed at increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion at their institution. However, most of these initiatives are geared toward professional development of employees, hiring strategies, programs for the local communities, etc., and less toward customer facing practices. As our focus is the experience of immigrants of color living in the United States, we have observed a disconnect between banks’ commitment towards customers of different nationalities and actual action, and there is a need for better execution when taking abstract values and turning them into real practices for better customer support.
Participants mentioned several problem areas that could become areas of focus for banks, which translate into initiatives that will have a real impact on including immigrants in the banking system. One of these problem areas is the difficulty immigrants have in navigating the bureaucracy of both the banking and immigration system. Immigrants trying to access the banking system face a barrage of paperwork, often in a language they do not understand well, along with contradictory statements regarding what services they can access and when. Banks interested in including immigrants in the banking system could work with immigrants to identify these bureaucratic barriers and create initiatives to remove the barriers such as a more streamlined system and more personal assistance. If the barriers identified by banks match our own findings, these initiatives may include reducing the amount of complicated paperwork required by immigrants, adding more information regarding banking procedures that is easily accessible in multiple ways, and creating communication for immigrants that is tailored to their linguistic and cultural needs.
Another frequently occurring theme in the DEI statements we analyzed was a commitment to an inclusive workforce. Banks mentioned their commitment to hiring a diverse group of workers and creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for their employees. Although banks may be actively working to increase the diversity of their workforce, the participants of this study pointed out that bank employees still lack the cultural competence to effectively work with immigrants. Banking customers come to the bank with a wide variety of experiences from various banking systems. They also come from a wide variety of social and cultural norms. Language barriers and cultural context are significant impediments to inclusion in banking.
Recent scholarship in technical communication has explored barriers to equity and inclusion (Philips & Deleon, 2022; Rose et al., 2017; Sims, 2022; Walwema & Carmichael, 2021), and the experiences of the immigrants we interviewed point to the need for technical communicators to pay more attention to the cultural barriers immigrants must navigate. As Phillips and Deleon (2022) point out in their examination of technical communication academic programs, lack of familiarity with bureaucracy, contending with politics, arduous communication interactions, and oppressive behaviors “compound to create unsafe, unwelcoming, and unsupportive environments” (p. 208). The same may be said of any institution, including banks. The barriers reported by the interview participants in this study show how the many important concerns faced by immigrants, such as lack of access to information in one’s native language, inadequate explanations of banking processes, and being called an “alien,” can make a bank unsafe, unwelcoming, and unsupportive.
Walwema and Carmichael (2021) point out that although scholarship on diversity has increased, barriers do exist for immigrants who are applying for jobs after their graduate education. The frustrations and the sense of exclusion felt by immigrant scholars seeking jobs are similar to the frustrations immigrants face when they try to open bank accounts or when they deal with financial institutions. Walwema and Carmichael (2021) note, and we agree, that it is important to understand “from the perspective of those who suffer most from exclusion” (p. 117). Indeed, if we want to advocate for the marginalized and those who intentionally or unintentionally encounter systemic barriers, then it is necessary to understand from their perspective. The findings in this study add to the growing scholarship in our field that calls for closer attention to lived experiences of marginalized populations. In the next section, we propose ideas that can help financial institutions to achieve their full commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Proposals for Change: Toward an Inclusive Banking Process
Expanding forms of customer identity verification to open accounts
Jennifer suggested some proposals for change that will ease immigrants’ access to financial services and financial independence. She believes in order for the system to work to favor immigrants, institutions should have provisions for applying for bank accounts just like they do for driver’s licenses: “They give you a driving license if you have a valid [immigration] status. Some things should be there, like it should start from giving the right to the person to work.” This means that when an individual can work, they are eligible to receive a social security card, thereby earn money and access financial services. As researchers, from lived experiences, we know that not giving rights to dependent immigrants to work is a very frustrating process. Isidore, for instance, has heard stories from individuals who left their meaningful jobs in their country to be with their partners, but they could not work because the system made them dependent on the spouses who arrived in the United States first. So, spouses arriving later either become “housewives” or “stay-at-home-husbands,” thus often stripped of their professional identity and financial access. According to the USA PATRIOT Act, acceptable forms of identification required by banks to open an account can include a customer’s social security number and driver’s license, as well as foreign government-issued identification and consular identification cards (Paulson et al., 2006).
While it is true that passports or visas are accepted as primary forms of identification (ID), and banks such as Chase accept student IDs with photo too (Chase, 2023), many banks require a secondary ID. For example, Bank of America accepts the following secondary IDs: Foreign driver’s license with photo or U.S. driver’s license, U.S. issued employment/work ID card or badge, debit or major credit card with Visa or Mastercard logo, major retail credit card from a nationally well-known company, U.S. Department of State Diplomat ID, and Mexican Voter Registration Card (Bank of America, 2023). But there are many immigrants who do not drive or cannot afford to buy a car, many are not authorized to work, most come here with no credit and are also unaware of the concept of accumulating credit, and the process of getting a debit card has its own set of identification requirements. By expanding secondary ID options based on the immigration and employment status of the individual, banks can make the process of opening accounts more inclusive. For example, for international students on F-1 visas, an alternative form of identification can be a current enrollment letter from the registrar of the university, a school-issued ID, or the form I-20, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security document issued by the university. For spouses of primary visa holders, such as H-4 visa holders who may not be able to work and don’t have social security cards, state photo identification card is another option. Similarly, anyone who does not own a car or cannot drive, could submit a state photo identification card instead of a driver’s license.
Improved communication tailored toward immigrants
Here, participants suggest two areas that financial institutions can improve upon. First, they suggest banks and financial institutions properly define terms they use when they are communicating with immigrants. Out of the 13 interviewees, 11 reveal that financial institutions assume immigrants understand terms banks use. For instance, Roselyn indicated that when she wanted to open an account, one of the requirements was to pass “the substantial test” and she did not know what that meant. The bank did not explain it on their website, so she had to use Google to see what that test entails. Roselyn would have appreciated some definition of their use of the term “alien residence.” She was not sure what the term meant. She admitted that the bank tried to explain it on their website, but it was still not helpful. She suggested that they change the language and
provide more information so that we can see that it includes us. It includes the different immigration statuses. Yeah, so either they have maybe a portion on their website that explains this much into detail, and they provide a link to that website of that information…so more information, more information for us and that will help make the language more inclusive.
Intercultural and diversity training
Participants suggest intercultural communication skills and training for banking institutions. Monica’s words sum this recommendation up nicely when she stated, “I think banks in the United States don’t understand that immigrants don’t have the background of how the banking [system] works here.” Isidore recalled when he wanted to secure a loan to get his first car. He was surprised when the bank he was working with denied him the loan because, according to bank officials, he had not accrued enough credit history. Isidore did not know what that meant because in his country of origin credit history or credit score is not as important. The official even said Isidore could not secure the loan because “he didn’t owe” any institution. The only way an institution could lend you money was if you owed. In essence, institutions trust people who owe money. That was contrary to what Isidore knew from his country. Growing up, he was taught that to build your credibility, you must not owe anybody so the idea of getting loans or owing was a scary venture. Therefore, it was a bit surprising that in America, trust is based on how much you owe and how you made such payments. Banks need to understand their clients, especially immigrant clients who come with different cultural backgrounds and expectations. Jasmine described this recommendation as focusing on client needs and ensuring a better user experience while Monica stated
in order to service your clients better, you need to understand that they come from different backgrounds, so maybe you need some type of training … some type of training about diversity or even kind of not only a general training about cultural bias … it’s a little bit more like socio-cultural and historic-intercultural and everything … they need this type of awareness just also to have more targeting advertising materials and things. They have flyers. I mean they should include how to do transfers and how much they would cost and what does that mean?
Jasmine also proposed that banking institutions need to translate some of the information they have into different languages. She stressed the importance of translation to business and banking. If bank administrators notice that there are a lot of Indian or Spanish speakers at their local branches, they should hire a translator.
Diverse and inclusive hires/management
Two of the participants were very emphatic about recommending that banks hire for diversity because they have had experiences working with or looking for a job in a bank. These two participants reveal biased policies and treatment of immigrants. Joanna shared her experience searching for a job with a bank in the United States. Joanna has a first degree in Banking and Finance (from Ghana) and master’s degree in International Banking and Finance from London. When she set out to look for a job in the banking sector, she visited a bank whose employers asked her to go online, but she wanted a more personal conversation than just browsing for details online. When she had the opportunity to speak with hiring managers, the first question they asked was, “Do you want to be a bank teller?” She wanted a job that fit her graduate degree and work experience. She describes tellering as “more like checking out role. When you go to most shops, what you see is people of color doing checking. And if you transfer it to the banking hall, checking out role is more like tellering …. I have been a financial analyst. I could do the mortgage. It’s just a matter of training and transferring my knowledge to fit into the American experience.” She believed the question about whether she would like to be a teller can be attributed to bias and stated,
Why would you think that I am looking into tellering when all I want to do is talk to you and ask you about the job opportunities and get more personal experience with the bank before I apply. I think they should have approached me with a very open mind. Very open mind in that I expected them to have laid down even if they didn’t have an opening or any vacancies to fill. They could mention all the job roles they have…and then my qualifications. And we could talk about the best fit for me and how much I could also use my knowledge to help.
Joanna is of the view that banks and financial institutions should “walk the talk” of diversity by being open to hiring more immigrants: “I expect banking—if anything at all, they should go over and beyond to catch more immigrants. Because the banking industry in this—more by immigrants than it is by natives or white people here. We do a lot of international transactions which calls for extra charges.”
Interestingly, Jasmine described her experience working in a branch in an unjust working environment. She starts by saying, “I’ve been unfairly treated when it comes to banking.” She explained how people looked at her or talked to her differently when she walked into a banking hall. She provided examples of how people would say they struggled to hear what she was saying because she “has an accent.” In addition to her accent, the participant discussed how despite her master’s degree, she witnessed white people who did not even have a university degree be promoted while she still remains in the same position as she was when hired. Jasmine stated,
My branch manager doesn’t even have a high school diploma; she’s been working the job for a long time, so that’s how she got the promotion. My district manager doesn’t have a degree. Even when it comes to promotion, you work hard. You show up all the time. You don’t even have call-outs. But when it comes to promotion, you don’t get it, to the management level, you don’t get it. I think the country has gone beyond words now. Right now, anybody can say anything, right? Everybody’s trying to save the planet or trying to be inclusive and all that. They kind of run the best campaign slogans and everything. But I just feel like they have to show it. Like you going to a workplace and you’re able to see diversity when you look around. You can’t run 13 or 14 branches and just one person …. Out of 14 branches, like 13 of your bank managers are White and just one person is Asian. Let me have a Black branch manager in my district ….
Jasmine believes that it is important for financial institutions and banks to empower “immigrants that work for them.” Institutions cannot promote people because they think they are
outspoken. What do you mean by he is outspoken? I am always fixing this person’s mistakes here, spending hours with back-office to correct mistakes, but somehow the person is more outspoken so has to get promoted. I think they should go beyond words. They should empower from within, have their managerial team look like the customers they serve.
Theophilus shared similar concerns as Joanna and Jasmine. He thinks it will be “nice if you go to a banking hall and you speak to people that actually represent the country.” Importantly, if banks and financial institutions want to profess diversity, their “leadership, senior leadership, middle management should reflect, right? Because if that doesn’t happen, then you are not capturing a diverse view.” He ends with an important question that reiterates Jasmine’s call for empowerment from within:
So, low-income earners, right, in their industry, what policies are in place for these people to advance, right because I don’t think somebody wants to be a teller for 20, 35, years. So, what can they do? What can they do to make sure that they are providing the right educational services, funds, and all that, to support these communities?
In addition to the biased hiring and promotion practices shared by our participants, Monica makes another important observation regarding the culture of banks that discriminate against immigrants:
as I have been saying, is banking is—they make it more difficult for immigrants. My experience has been that when I was an immigrant, everything was more difficult, right? You know how it feels like they don’t trust you? They don’t trust. So, they need to make sure of that you’re not a thief, right? I don’t know if they think you’re going to rob their bank, right? I mean, 2 cents that I’m trying to have there, right? Kind of they don’t trust you. It feels like they don’t trust you, so you have to prove yourself that you’re worthy to have their business or stuff like that, right? And another perception that—I know it’s ridiculous. But I noticed when my husband was with me at the bank, people were more willing to help, which I hated because I’m like, hey, I don’t know if it’s because I’m a woman, which that happens everywhere, right or because he’s a White American man. They assume that they would know more than me. So, I remember noticing because I’m a social scientist, so I look.
As calls for diversity, equity, and inclusion in our field grow, we must pay attention to material conditions of immigrant students/scholars in TPC academic programs. Walwema and Carmichael (2021) point to one aspect of the material conditions we need to focus on, that is, help immigrant scholars negotiate the convoluted job search process, while Rose et al. (2017) notify us about the struggles immigrants encounter when they sign up for health insurance. Similar to the aforementioned articles, our research points out another concern: it is not easy for immigrant students/scholars to open bank accounts and access other financial resources.
Although equitable access to information and resources is severely limited for immigrants to the United States, technical and professional communicators have the opportunity to use their skills to bridge some of the gaps in equity identified by interview participants. Sims (2022) suggests the need for technical communicators to collaborate with powerful stakeholders to work on socially just documents that will empower vulnerable people who may be suffering from trauma due to policies of exclusion enacted through technical documents. As stated by Sims,
TPC has the potential to either intensify the oppression previously experienced by these audiences or empower them to act for their own well-being. Therefore, technical and professional instructors and practitioners have an ethical responsibility to communicate with these audiences through methods that are socially just. (2022)
Concerns expressed by immigrants we interviewed about lack of clarity in documents requested by banks, the need for translation of documents, the need for further explanation of technical jargon used by banks, and laxity in the documents requested before an account is opened are calls that emphasize the usefulness of plain language, accessibility, and human-centered design. If, for example, there are federal or international laws that limit a bank’s ability to provide access or that give the impression of inequity, banks can provide context in plain language to explain the source of discrepancies. These concerns also call on technical communicators to increase research and practice in translation studies. In an interview about the importance of translation, Laura Gonzales (2022) acknowledged that one of the strengths of technical communicators is our ability to pay attention to language: “using plain language to reach broader audiences, writing clear and specific documentation, collaborating with stakeholders to ensure work toward accessibility” (interview with Laura Gonzales, 2022). Gonzales went on to bemoan the narrow frameworks that we use to study language. Because approaches to the study of language are narrow, we fail to properly capture the multilingual reality we find ourselves in. Responding to a question about how technical communicators can establish connections with practitioners outside the academy, Gonzales (2022) encouraged technical communicators to take a simple but pragmatic step: we need to “get involved in what is happening in our local communities—to see what the community needs, what actions are being taken in the continuous fight for justice and equality, and to connect with folks who have been doing the work to see if and how we can help.” Our research has exposed the various ways banks and financial institutions harm immigrants and make them feel less welcome. As expressed by Laura Gonzales, it becomes our responsibility to connect with local banks to work with them to design documents that empower immigrants. We should not wait to be invited to participate in local affairs. Rather, we should willingly offer our expertise. Actually, Participant 13 reiterated some of the calls for collaboration with local communities or, in our case, local banks in these words:
Monica: Now that you and the other researchers doing this important research, I’m looking forward for the results. I don’t want to put pressure on you. You know what I mean? And I hope you have the opportunity not necessarily to publish because sometimes I feel like when we are doing research, we communicate only to other researchers. This is something that I hope you can do some outreach also, right? I hope you can communicate–
Researcher: I know. That’s a good one. I never thought about it.
Monica: Just propose that, right? How do you translate the results of your research to some outreach beyond papers? Because I’m sure papers would come from this. Beyond papers, how do you do some outreach? How do we make sure this will benefit all the migrants and the banking relations? How your findings are going to be translated to benefit?
Monica is calling for actionable steps that will translate into real-world consequences. This is a challenge to be engaged citizens of our local communities as opposed to the privileged research position we assume in our universities. This is a call to use our rhetorical skills or our “specialized knowledge to serve” (Bowdon, 2004, p. 329) stakeholders in our communities. Rose et al. (2017), for example, use their expertise in usability and user experience to evaluate the usability of a guidebook about how to enroll in health insurance and provide guidance on how immigrants who struggle to sign up for health insurance can do so. By this act, they demonstrate how to use rhetorical skills to serve their local community.
Sims also encourages technical communicators to collaborate with stakeholders to design accessible documents or human-centered designs for social justice. Sims (2022) suggests that if we are to succeed, then we need to integrate plain language both in our practices and pedagogy (p. 11). Plain language as a tool for social justice has been advanced by scholars in our field (Jones & Williams, 2017; Jones et al., 2012; Willerton, 2015). To be clear, plain language communicates complex information in an accessible and understandable way to readers. Willerton (2015) believes that plain language is one way technical communicators can do ethical work (p. 1), while Jones and Williams (2017) confidently proclaim that plain language will enable technical communicators to pursue issues of “human rights and human dignity because language accessibility in documents plays a large role in how citizens engage in civic and social activities” (p. 412).
Thus, technical communicators have the skills and tools to involve immigrants and other stakeholders in efforts to move U.S. banking institutions beyond DEI statements to socially just action. By presenting an analysis of the DEI statements and initiatives of the top banks in the country and by juxtaposing it with the lived experiences of diverse customers like immigrants of color, this article can help practitioners reflect on measures that are working towards their goal of achieving equity in the workplace and areas where there might be a divide between policies and their execution. The article emphasizes the importance of using inclusive language, especially on websites, which professional and business communicators can review, test with a multicultural customer base, and make modifications, if necessary. The article also makes practical suggestions which practitioners can benefit from, such as offering alternative forms of identification that can be accepted for non-residents to open bank accounts. Promoting financial inclusion in the form of access to credit, savings accounts, investment opportunities, and other initiatives is not only a social and ethical responsibility of banks, but it can also help banks expand the customer base by 1) reaching out to marginalized populations who may not be able to open a bank account due to current limitations, and 2) work toward gaining the trust and sustained business of current customers who feel empowered with increased financial freedom and a sense of belonging, especially as immigrants. In future studies, we encourage technical communication researchers and practitioners to identify unnecessary banking documentation, examine ways to help stakeholders lobby for policy changes that make immigrants’ interactions with banks less arduous, and highlight ways that banks can use technology, plain language, and translation to clarify requirements and procedures.
This study is limited insofar as it focuses on nine banks and about a dozen interviews. Text mining suggests that the themes persist in other bank statements, but further quantitative analyses of more statements would help confirm the findings. The findings are not generalizable, because it is a qualitative study with a small sample size. However, as is the case with other such studies, the findings can provide insight with which to formulate a foundation from which to validate with surveys and other more generalizable methods. Qualitative studies are held to the standard of trustworthiness (such as credibility, dependability, confirmability, and transferability) rather than generalizability. Our findings are trustworthy, but a survey of a representative sample of customers would afford more generalizable findings. Additional natural language processing—particularly of bank policies—would also help identify additional themes and issues. Nevertheless, this article provides unique and useful insights into the disconnects between bank and customers’ perceptions of diversity, equity, inclusion, and bank access for immigrant customers of color. The findings present actionable information for technical communicators in the financial sector for using messaging and communication to increase transparency and potentially customer satisfaction, relationship building, and trust.
Finally, there are several practical implications of the findings. First, technical communicators should not only create messages about bank diversity statements, but they should also state explicitly how these general value statements about diversity bear out in particular products and services for international customers. Second, technical communicators in banking should take great care not to mislead or overstate the benefits of their services or the extent of their multicultural approach. This word of caution not only applies to text explaining the benefits and limitations of international customer service, but it also applies to the images used. Stock photos should reflect the actual demographics of the customer base. Third, technical communicators should create new products for international customers. For example, these products should translate the laws prohibiting and constraining the services that banks can provide their immigrant clients. Full transparency would not only outline the services provided, but also offer context explaining what laws and policies constrain those services. Overall, the research offers practical insights for technical communicators in the banking field and extensions of critical theory in technical communication to include intersectional perspectives on banking communication.
The authors would like to thank Technical Communication Editorial Review Advisory Board member, Dr. Natasha N. Jones, for handling the anonymous peer review process for this article. The authors would also like to thank the reviewers for their feedback and guidance.
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About the Authors
Dr. Isidore K. Dorpenyo is associate professor of professional writing and rhetoric in the Department of English at George Mason University where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in technical, scientific and professional communication. His research interests include intercultural communication, localization, election technologies, social justice, public engagement, and user experience. His publications have appeared in Journal of Business and Technical Communication, Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, Technical communication Quarterly, Technical Communication, Programmatic Perspectives, and the Community Literacy Journal. He is the author of the book User Localization Strategies in the Face of Technological Breakdown: Biometric in Ghana’s Elections. Palgrave Macmillan Press. 2020. He’s co-edited three special issues. His co-authored article is the winner of the 2023 CCCC Technical and Scientific Communication Award for Best Article on Pedagogy or Curriculum in Technical and Scientific Communication.
Meghalee Das is a PhD candidate in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University. Her research interests include user experience (UX), intercultural technical communication, online instructional design, and digital rhetoric. She has authored chapters in key edited collections, and her articles have appeared in Technical Communication, Programmatic Perspectives, and Intercom. For her dissertation, she studies the UX of international, transcultural, and multilingual students in synchronous online classes, and the usability of video conferencing platforms to develop culturally-inclusive and user-centered pedagogical strategies. Meghalee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Chris Dayley is an assistant professor of English and director of the Master of Arts in Technical Communication program at Texas State University. His research interests include social justice, ethics, and issues of diversity and inclusion in technical and professional communication academic programs. Chris’ work has appeared in Programmatic Perspectives, Technical Communication Quarterly, Technical Communication, and Communication Design Quarterly. Chris Dayley’s Programmatic Perspectives article was the winner of the 2022 Programmatic Perspectives Research Article Award.
Dr. Aimee Kendall Roundtree is an Assistant Vice President for Research in the Division of Research and a full professor in the technical communication program at Texas State University, where she has also served as Associate Dean of Research in the College of Liberal Arts and Faculty Fellow for the Division of Research. She is the editor of the Research Management Review and Associate Editor for IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication. She is also an editorial and review board member of the Journal of Research Administration, Technical Communication Quarterly, Programmatic Perspectives, and Writing Across the Curriculum Clearinghouse. She is a vice president of the Association of the Rhetoric of Science, Technology, and Medicine. She has served as president of the American Communication Association. She has published in the Technical Communication Quarterly, Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, Journal of Technical and Business Communication, and the Journal of Texas Medicine, among others.
Dr. Miriam F. Williams is Professor of English and Associate Chair of Texas State University’s Department of English. Prior to her career in academia, she worked as a caseworker, health and safety inspector, policy analyst, policy writer/editor, and program administrator for State of Texas agencies. Her books and articles focus on public policy writing, race and ethnicity, and critical analysis of historical discourse. Her publications include articles in Technical Communication, Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, Journal of Business and Technical Communication, Technical Communication Quarterly, IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, and Programmatic Perspectives. Her co-edited book with Dr. Octavio Pimentel, Communicating Race, Ethnicity, and Identity in Technical Communication, received CCCC’s 2016 Best Original Collection of Essays in Scientific and Technical Communication award and her co-authored article with Dr. Natasha Jones won the CCCC’s 2020 Best Article Reporting Historical Research or Textual Studies in Technical award. She is a Fellow of the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing and Editor-in-Chief of the Society for Technical Communication’s journal, Technical Communication.
Appendix A–Interview protocol
- Tell us about where you were born and/or where you grew up?
- What were your experiences with banking institutions before moving to the United States?”
- Describe any personal experiences you have with financial/banking institutions in the United States where you believe that your status as an immigrant provided you with equal access to financial services?
- Describe any personal experiences you have with financial/banking institutions in the United States where you believe that your status as an immigrant limited your access to financial services?
- In what ways might your identity as a person of color and an immigrant affect your perception of banking in the United States.
- Describe any personal experiences you have with financial institutions that make you trust or distrust banks or lenders.
- What would diverse and inclusive banking practices mean for you as an immigrant and/or person of color?