January 1, 2002

Banking on Safety

Banks Accept Alternative ID to Fight Crime and Reach New Markets
Opening a bank account is easy for most people. You take your driver's license, Social Security card and money to the bank, and—Presto!—you have an account.

With this account comes the convenience of easy access to your money and the safety of not carrying large amounts of cash.

But opening a bank account is often not possible for Mexican nationals who lack the two forms of identification, including at least one photo ID, generally required to open an account. Without these, they are limited to using check-cashing services to cash payroll checks and wire services to send money to relatives in Mexico.

They also end up carrying large sums of cash, which has increasingly made Hispanic immigrants targets of crime. Forty-seven percent of Austin's reported robbery victims are Hispanic, according to the Austin Police Department. This led Austin police last year to look to a new crime-fighting tool: bank accounts. And Wells Fargo Bank was there to help.

Matricula Cards—An Alternative Form of Identification
In May 2001, Wells Fargo branches in Austin began taking the matricula consular card as an acceptable form of photo identification for opening a depository account. Mexican consulates issue the matricula to all Mexican nationals in the United States as proof of Mexican citizenship.

The matricula is valid for five years. The card contains the individual's photo, name, date and place of birth, and U.S. address. The consular offices require specific Mexican documents, such as a birth certificate, voter registration card, driver's license or military ID, before issuing the matricula.

"Matricula cards are issued with enough rigor that we consider them to be a valid, reliable form of identification," says Mark Curry, community bank president of Wells Fargo Austin.

"We are very careful in our verification process," assures Julián Adem, deputy consul general in Dallas. "We have the full authority of the Mexican government to verify that Mexican citizens are who they say they are. Local Mexican consulate offices are also working on ways to provide quick verification over the phone to confirm a matricula card's authenticity."

Second Form of Identification
Along with a matricula card, a Mexican national can use a Mexican voter registration card, passport, original birth certificate, credit card, student ID or driver's license as the second item of identification. "Producing a second form of identification in addition to the matricula card generally hasn't been a problem for people seeking to open bank accounts," according to Curry.

Access in Mexico
Almost $8 billion is wired to Mexico each year. A bank account that customers can use to send "moderate amounts of personal money to relatives in Mexico at a competitive price is an important account feature for attracting Hispanics into the banking system," says Curry.

Eight of Wells Fargo's stores have launched a pilot program that partners with Grupo Financiero Bancomer SA, Mexico's second largest bank. The program allows people with appropriate identification, including the matricula, to send money to Bancomer branches in Mexico from the Wells Fargo stores. The Banca Facil program at Wells Fargo in Austin lets immigrants' family members in Mexico debit their Wells Fargo accounts in the United States directly using a second ATM card.

Community Outreach and Financial Literacy
As part of its effort to bring Mexican immigrants into the financial mainstream, the Austin Police Department arranged community meetings to teach individuals about the safety and usefulness of bank accounts. The police department invited banks to participate. Wells Fargo joined the effort by having its bankers give presentations in Spanish, explaining how bank accounts work and how to use ATMs. The biggest challenge was convincing people that banks could be trusted, according to Austin police.

Program Launched in Dallas and Other Cities
Programs like the one in Austin have been popping up all over the country in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and, most recently, Dallas/Fort Worth. On January 17, the Dallas and Fort Worth police departments joined with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Mexican Consulate and six financial institutions—Wells Fargo, Surety Bank, Bank One, J.P. Morgan Chase, City Credit Union and First State Bank—that have agreed to accept the matricula to announce the Communities Banking for Safety program. Through community education on the value of opening a bank account, the program seeks to reduce the number of Hispanic victims of robberies, burglaries and thefts.

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