On Wednesday of last week, I was asked to speak on a panel to discuss “What Makes Communities Great.” Our business partner Grace Hill asked me to be a part of their Solutions Breakfast and it was truly my honor. Grace Hill is such a positive force in our North St. Louis community as they provide hope for so many. We are honored to work with them.
Over the next three blogs, I will loosely recap my comments shared that day with the nearly 100 people attending the event.
My comments helped to frame the importance of St. Louis Community Credit Union and our work in the community. Enjoy.
How important is access to mainstream financial institutions in a community?
Extensive research indicates that weakened economic underpinnings in a community contribute to many of the social ills that make headlines. Education, housing, transportation, day care, medical services and healthy food rightfully demand attention, but affordable financial services help to create stability and security in a community as well. With mainstream banking, household standards of living and the prospects for wealth accumulation increase.
Look, to answer the question, I’ll pose another question. In response to “How important is access to mainstream financial services?” one must ask, “How damaging are payday lenders and check cashers to our communities?” They strip our communities of their wealth and provide no reinvestment within that same community. Predatory lending/fringe banking exists because mainstream financial services do not exist in these communities. You’ve heard of healthy food deserts — I suggest to you that financial services deserts exist as well and must be eradicated.
The Brookings Institute coined the phrase “poor tax.” It’s the amount paid by low-income families above what their more affluent counterparts pay. This “poor tax” is very pronounced in the world of credit, fees and services provided by “fringe banking elements.” We forget that, but believe me, our communities are stung by Missouri’s weak regulation on payday lenders coupled with a lack of market-based solutions.
St. Louis Community Credit Union is a market solution that stands in the gap to try to create wealth. Sadly, and you may not know this, according to Census data, St. Louis City is considered a “persistent poverty center.” That means that we have 20% of our city population in a state of poverty for over 30 years. I did not say that wrong. Yes, we need more banking solutions.
The second installment is coming next week and will answer the question, “What can mainstream financial institutions do to better serve low-income communities in need?”