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National Origin Discrimination

Since September 11, 2001, there has been heightened concern about discrimination based on national origin against people from (or who appear to be from) the enormous part of the world generally referred to as the Middle East. The concern about national origin discrimination includes Arabic countries in North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and the range of countries from Turkey across Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, down through the Indian subcontinent.

The number of possible victims of discrimination is enormous. To understand the possible scope of this discrimination, spend some time sitting in any large metropolitan airport on a busy travel day. Look at the people who pass by. The diversity is awesome both in scope and numbers.

The more difficult question is how we respond to this diversity. The goal of good service should be to welcome diversity without discriminating. But we also have to identify and report suspected terrorists. How do we do this?

This is a new world - to go with our new century and our new millennium. We need some new procedures and there is very little guidance. Perhaps a useful source for training staff to respond effectively to diverse customers is the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The basic rule of ADA compliance is to let the customer set the ground rules. The staff member should not always produce a specific response to a blind customer. Instead, we should offer the customer a choice. We do this by finding out what method of reading documents the customer is comfortable with.

With persons from different cultures we should do the same. Let the customer choose the process. The most important first step that you can take is to learn about the customer and put the customer at ease. Avoid communicating any kind of disapproval.

Hold some open agenda meetings to discuss service to diverse customers. Discuss some of the points below. Ask people for examples. Suggest that they use practice conversations when they are in places such as coffee shops, grocery stores and the like.

Here are some guidelines to help your staff through this maze:

  • Smile at everyone
    Have you heard the expression, there's a smile in your voice?" It's true. The voice actually sounds different - friendlier - when the speaker is smiling. It has something to do with the muscles in the face and throat. So smile when you talk - even if the customer can't see you. Smiling, and the relaxed tone that your voice has when you smile, puts the customer at ease. It also sends a positive message. Remember, the customer that fears discrimination can be infinitely reassured by a smile. It says you are happy to be working with them.

  • Find out about the customer
    The customer is in this country and in your bank for a reason. Find out what those reasons are. You might be deeply surprised or moved. While there are terrorists in our midst, most of the people who come to our country do so for the same reasons our ancestors came: economic opportunity, political freedom, and religious choice. New immigrants recharge our principles.

  • Learn from the customer
    Every customer who is different from you brings you an opportunity to learn more about that person's culture, country of origin, language, and the like. What you learn from one customer will help you deal with future customers.

  • Get a sense about the customer
    A person of good will should be willing to talk with you.

  • Never judge the person or the culture or country from which they come
    Every country and culture has a positive side and a darker side. Avoid judging customers based on the negatives you have heard. Use the opportunity to learn about the positives.

  • CRA teaches us that today's low- or moderate-income customer is tomorrow's high-end customer. Immigrants fit this pattern. Each new customer, no matter how humble now, is an opportunity for growth.

  • If the customer seems rigid, unfriendly, secretive, or just plain suspicious, discuss your interaction with your manager and decide what to do.

Copyright © 2002 Compliance Action. Originally appeared in Compliance Action, Vol. 7, No. 2, 3/02

First published on 03/01/2002

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