New report shows financial industry has not done enough to meet the needs of low-income

LatinaLista — Today the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) released the 2009 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households.

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The report found that people who make less than $30,000, along with, blacks, Native Americans and Latinos are the four groups to be the ones who most likely don’t have a bank account.

Overall, almost 54 percent of black households, 44.5 percent of American Indian/Alaskan households, and 43.3 percent of Hispanic households are either unbanked or underbanked.

 

For some reason that startled the authors and the banking community but it’s a fact of life long known about in these communities.

For some, the reason is a basic mistrust of banks. For others, who make so little money, the fees banks charge for account maintenance, debit card usage and checks are enough of a deterrent that makes the “mattress vault” look far more attractive.

The reality of the situation is that while, in the case of Latinos, banks provided Spanish-speaking personnel on site or offered a Spanish version of their websites, bank services did not meet the specific needs of those who are both Latino, or other minority, and low-income.

The banks met their own needs but failed to see that by failing to serve this portion of their local community, they’re missing an opportunity to forge community relationships and future business.

 

The benefits of having a bank account outweigh the cons, unless of course, a person makes so little money that every dollar the bank charges for its services helps deplete that person’s hard-earned earnings.

When that happens it makes it hard to justify that $20 service fee when that same $20 was counted on for food, rent, etc.

Most businesses understood long ago that to serve their customers, a one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t work. It’s especially true in the banking industry.

With this report shining a spotlight on the inequity that exists in the banking industry regarding these groups, it’s time that changes were made to accommodate people who desperately need a safe place to keep their money but can least afford the service fees that come with an account.

To make a true difference and provide the kind of economic inclusion that these groups deserve, banks can do a number of things to make their relationship with this demographic rewarding for both:

1. Establish a sliding fee scale based on a person’s monthly deposits.

2. To qualify for an account with a sliding fee scale, prospective customers should be required to take a financial literacy class at the bank. The class should explain fiscal management and what the legal and bank penalties are for being overdrawn and/or writing hot checks.

3. Provide these customers with the option of having a “bank mentor” whom they meet with on a monthly basis to review their account and have ongoing discussions about fiscal management.

Through these actions, the bank is not only ensuring that their new customers understand and are developing a trust of the banking industry but is also laying the foundation for a long-term relationship with that individual.

In the process, the bank is also creating new relationships with other family members and friends of that customer who see that a bank is not an institution that just wants to take their money, but help them save it so they have more in the future.

It’s a message that is not reaching the people who need to hear it.

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