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Strengthening information accessibility for consumers with limited English proficiency

Experiencing a financial challenge can feel scary and intimidating. Those feelings can be amplified when critical financial information is not in your primary language.

At the CFPB, we want to ensure that financial products and services are accessible to all consumers, including those with limited English proficiency – and that means first ensuring that our own resources are fair, equitable, accessible and easily understood.

Letting the needs of LEP consumers be our guideposts

Since the CFPB was established in 2011, we have been consistent with Executive Order 13166, which requires federal agencies to provide meaningful access of their information and services to the 25 million U.S. residents with limited English proficiency (LEP). Historically, we’ve done this by releasing direct-to-consumer resources in eight of the most commonly spoken languages, in addition to English. In 2022, we decided to test if our resources were effective in meeting the needs of LEP communities in helping them navigate financial hardships. Over the last year, we conducted:

  • Consumer focus groups in Arabic, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Korean, Tagalog, and Vietnamese to hear about people’s experiences with the United States financial system, most common financial issues, and perceptions of the U.S. government and the CFPB.
  • Interviews with organizations that provide direct and indirect assistance on financial matters to LEP consumers.
  • Usability tests of our translated resources to ensure they are easy to use and to inform our long-term language access strategy.

What we learned

Less dense, more digestible. Focus group participants prefer mobile-friendly webpages with less dense text and more images or icons. They want smaller, “bite-sized” pieces of information in the form of shorter paragraphs and brief videos.

Review of basics. People who are less familiar with how the U.S. banking and financial systems work need more introductory information on basic topics. Without resources in their primary language people will use unreliable, third-party translation tools, making navigating our financial system even more burdensome and confusing.

Plain language. Translated content often can be difficult to understand because the words used are too formal or technical, especially for people with lower literacy levels. Using more culturally relevant speaking and writing styles, like “Taglish” - a combination of Tagalog and English, can help overcome this challenge.

English for comparison. Adding English reference words or commonly used acronyms in parentheses can help people look up the proper meaning of terms. Also, mirroring webpage layouts across languages can help multilingual consumers easily compare content.

How the CFPB is working towards more equitable language access already offers content and resources in eight languages besides English, including Arabic, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. Our long-term goal is to provide the same experience to LEP consumers that our English-speaking consumers receive.

As a result, we’ve launched newly redesigned website landing pages Arabic, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Tagalog, and Vietnamese, that seek to make it easier to navigate CFPB tools and resources and learn more about the banking and financial systems. The pages include commonly used financial terms and acronyms.

The CFPB accepts complaints in 180 different languages about a financial product or service, and these redesigned landing pages provide a more detailed explanation of that process, so consumers know what to expect.

At the CFPB, improving language access for LEP consumers and for those assisting them with financial matters remains a long-term priority and this is just our first step. We are excited to continue this work, so all consumers have access to a fair, competitive safe, equitable financial marketplace.

Visit our newly redesigned webpages and join our mailing list to be notified as this work continues.

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