SCHERERVILLE │ An initiative hopes to connect people in Northwest Indiana who are unbanked with mainstream financial services such as affordable checking, savings and financial education opportunities for which they would not otherwise qualify.
The Bank On NWI initiative, which hosted sessions Tuesday at Northwest Indiana Community Action, welcomed officials from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., who in one session provided insight on how financial institutions across the country have been reaching underserved markets.
Local financial institutions in attendance learned how their organizations can join other leaders in the banking community in reaching the estimated 17,000 unbanked and under-banked individuals in Northwest Indiana.
Another session was geared towards community organizations and how they could connect with people in the region who are unbanked or under-banked with mainstream financial services for which they would not otherwise qualify.
Centier Bank Financial Capabilities Coordinator and Bank On spokeswoman Dian Reyome said some people don’t trust financial institutions, “but if we work through community-based organizations that help them, they will trust them.”
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson was a guest speaker for the community organizations session and spoke about the impact the unbanked and underbanked have on a community.
“The establishment of a bank account is key to helping people establish a place for themselves in the community,” she said.
Freeman-Wilson said in maintaining a bank account and a banking relationship, a person will grow as an individual and look at options that are available in terms of owning a car, a home and perhaps at opportunities to establish a business.
“All of those opportunities are derived from that first banking relationship,” she said.
Freeman-Wilson said it’s always easy for people to say the “haves and have-nots” are really separated because some folks are employed and some aren’t, and some people grew up in certain communities and some didn’t.
“It’s not really that simple,” she said. “It’s how do you distinguish those practices that you develop or don’t develop at an early age? Do you simply say this is a community doomed to be at the whim of credit unions or payday loans? Or do you determine that people haven’t learned skills and that you’ll figure out a way to teach them?"
Freeman-Wilson said that’s where community organizations come in.
“You have a unique opportunity to go into communities,” she said.
Freeman-Wilson said teaching children financial literacy, especially in saving money, allows for a foundation that’s created in the communities they live. They become “savers” as adults and invest in the community they live and use savings to help them attend college.
Freeman-Wilson also said in any educational program, especially for adults, the “predators” – pay day lenders and currency exchanges – must be taken “head-on.”
A 2009 FDIC survey found that 9.6 percent of households in Lake County are unbanked and 21 percent of households in Lake County are underbanked.