You Gotta Have a Gimmick, Start-Up's Fortunes Attest

Article excerpt

In an effort to drum up business among Latinos, Pan American Bank is trying its luck with gimmicks like fortune tellers and macarena contests.

The start-up-the city's only Latino-owned bank-says its marketing efforts are helping build recognition among a population that relies chiefly on check-cashers for their financial needs.

"It's fun," said Ernest Ojeda, Pan American's chairman and founder. "This has helped immensely in letting people know who we are and what we've done."

The promotions directly brought in about 75 new accounts apiece, but officials say the attendant publicity attracted additional business. Pan American's efforts demonstrate how community banks are using marketing techniques to build niches-in this case an ethnic one-in an environment dominated by behemoth financial institutions.

Pan American has plenty of competition in Pilsen, a gritty neighborhood on the city's South Side. Surrounded by check cashers and branches of other banks, the $24.8 million-asset newcomer is trying to set itself apart.

"When you're a small institution and you're trying to get market share, you're more receptive to new ideas," said Kevin Tynan, president of Tynan Marketing Inc., a Chicago-based consulting firm. Mr. Tynan, who has been active in bank marketing for 20 years, has worked with Pan American since last year.

Bank officials said it chose promotions involving the macarena, a popular dance among all age groups, and fortune-telling because both would appeal to Pilsen's predominantly Mexican immigrant population.

The community bank has also used more subtle methods of appealing to this market. …