Residents of underbanked communities typically have their financial needs fulfilled by payday loan stores, check cashing establishments, and even unlicensed predatory lenders. The expense associated with these services creates inefficiencies in the cycling of cash within the community. In other words, predatory lenders can drain more money out of the community—through high finance and service charges—than they put into it.
A banking institution, however, can have the opposite effect. When a bank reaches out to underbanked consumers and educates them on the advantages of keeping a deposit account, that bank is also compiling assets that will be returned to the community in the form of loans. Those lend-able funds are the building blocks of home ownership and local business development.
Financial education creates financial efficiencies
Studies have repeatedly shown that financial education is a huge component of attracting and retaining underbanked consumers. A bank that operates effectively in a previously underserved community isn’t limited to showing consumers how to reduce their finance charges, however. The bank can also initiate programs to help consumers develop more efficient budgeting, spending, savings and even tax planning habits. Over time, those cumulative household savings can also be directed back into the community, through discretionary spending.
With a creative vision and effective outreach and education programs, then, a newly acquired bank can anchor a turnaround within an underserved community.
Overcoming the failures of previous banks
The challenges in initiating such a turnaround are large, but not insurmountable. If the target bank is already located within the underserved community, the bank organizers need to understand why that institution wasn’t previously effective. The product and service set, the brand image and the marketing programs (to name a few) need to be overhauled to address the needs and wants of local consumers.
If the target bank is to be relocated to the underserved area, the bank organizers must try to gain some insight from the history of banking in that community. Did previous banks or branches fail? If so, why?
Underserved communities and unbanked consumers obviously aren’t the low-hanging fruit of the banking industry. However, initiating real and positive change within a community is an endeavor that can be both rewarding and profitable. And, because there are many underserved locales in the U.S., the group of bank organizers that defines a workable model for one community has ample opportunity to roll out variations of that model to other areas.
Next week, we’ll discuss marketing strategies for attracting and retaining underbanked consumers.