Spokane Journal of Business

Bank On initiative hopes to reach more people this year

Marketing campaign aimed at low-income households

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Bank On Spokane, a four-year-old initiative that seeks to help low- to moderate-income households establish banking accounts, says it’s launching a new marketing campaign in an effort to reach more people. 

Marcia Dorwin, credit analyst at Inland Northwest Bank and chairwoman of Bank On Spokane, says that in 2014, Bank On Spokane partners reported helping people open 241 fledgling accounts, followed by a 22 percent decrease in 2015.

The decline, Dorwin says, could be explained perhaps by fluctuations in the economy as well as the initiative’s previous marketing efforts.

Andrey Muzychenko, United Way community impact manager, says that in the first quarter of this year, Bank On Spokane partners reported helping people open a total of 36 accounts, including 21 savings and 15 checking accounts. Enrollment numbers are likely to increase in subsequent quarters, Muzychenko says.

“This summer, we begin our new marketing campaign with signs inside the bus system which we anticipate will attract many people in need,” he says. 

Considering the upcoming marketing strategy, the organization expects the number of new accounts to be close to or surpass 2014, says Muzychenko. 

Bank On Spokane is modeled after a similar initiative in San Francisco that addresses banking needs for low- to moderate-income individuals and families in neighborhoods that historically have been overlooked by the financial system.  

“Having a checking or savings account matters,” Dorwin says. “It’s the first step to financial stability.”

The Bank On Spokane campaign is operated by the CASH Coalition, an umbrella organization made up of United Way, SNAP Financial Access, WorkSource, Habitat for Humanity, and the YWCA. Each organization in the coalition is on the front line of poverty in Spokane County and deals directly with those who benefit most from being brought into the banking mainstream, says Muzychenko. 

“Our organization provides help for working families with no cash reserve for emergencies, those who’ve been overtaken by medical bills, the homeless population, and immigrants who may not speak English and may distrust the U.S. banking system because of economic instability in their country of origin,” he says. “We also help people who’ve been in the ChexSystems (credit reporting) database—people in need of a second chance—and lastly those who may not think they have enough money to establish an account.” 

CASH Coalition members funnel new clients to Bank On Spokane, which then connects them to banks and credit unions.  

Crystal C. Hall, an assistant professor in the University of Washington’s Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, spoke at the CASH Coalition’s yearly conference held in Spokane in April. Her comments focused on behavioral economics and poverty. 

“Studies demonstrate that in Spokane, as in other U.S. cities, neighborhood wealth levels affect economic mobility and communities as a whole do benefit when disenfranchised people enter the financial mainstream,” Hall says. “Banks play a major role in neighborhood stability, even more so in poor communities.”

Bank On Spokane member institutions operate in accordance with the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act, which mandated banks to address the credit needs of all segments of the communities where they do business. 

For financial institutions to help the community, they must enroll those who’ve not been handling their finances with established banks. The key is new enrollment. 

Bank On Spokane partners with the following financial institutions and government agencies: Banner Bank, INB, Mountain West Bank, State Bank Northwest, Wheatland Bank, Washington Trust, the Washington state Department of Commerce, and the Internal Revenue Service. 

The CASH Coalition pools community volunteers from the Gonzaga University School of Law, AARP, and Avista Utilities to offer free tax preparation in an attempt to use the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) as a source of funds to begin the savings process. 

“We hope to bring in more community volunteers for the coming year. The need is there. The results are certainly there,” Dorwin says. 

In 2015, 175 volunteers prepared more than 5,000 tax returns, which brought in $2 million for taxpayers.

The financial service providers and government agencies strive to help bring underbanked and unbanked people out of a costly, potentially dangerous cash-based existence and into the mainstream banking system where they can deposit, save, and borrow money. 

Unbanked is defined as an individual or household that lacks any kind of deposit account at an FDIC-insured institution. Underbanked refers to those who hold a bank account but continue to rely on alternative financial services such as payday lenders, pawn shops, and street-level installment brokers. 

The latest data available from the Center for Enterprise Development, a Washington, D.C.-based organization, showed that, in 2013, 5.5 percent of households in Spokane were unbanked and 17.5 percent had one account but continued to conduct financial transactions outside of the government-regulated network of banks. Typically, data show, low-income demographic groups that lack access to banking rely on alternative financial services where large transaction fees and predatory lending are commonplace.

“It’s important for everyone to have access to the mainstream banking economy for low- or no-fee checking accounts and interest bearing savings,” Dorwin says.

  • Chris Street

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Chris received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Texas. Previously Street wrote for Men’s Fitness, worked in the Texas oil fields, and served as a research assistant investigating banks for a private investment group. Assignments for the Journal of Business range from healthcare and technology to finance. A graduate of the United States Army Infantry School in Fort Benning, Georgia, Chris enjoys reading in his spare time. A few of his favorite authors include Pearl S. Buck, Truman Capote, Robert Sapolsky, C.J. Chivers and Tom Wainwright.

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