Financial Inclusion Summits Reveal Banking Needs

On Wednesday, February 28th, and Thursday, March 1st, nearly 200 community members and leaders gathered in Sarasota and St. Petersburg to discuss challenges and barriers to banking for low-income residents. According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), 21% of Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg area residents were either unbanked or underbanked (had a bank account but still used alternative financial services like payday loans or check cashing). According to the Prosperity Now Scorecard, 5.3% of Sarasota residents were unbanked, and 15.4% underbanked. 

United Way Suncoast organized the area’s first Financial Inclusion Summits as part of the Bank On Suncoast initiative. Key initiative partners and speakers at the Summit include the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund (CFE Fund), the City of St. Petersburg, City of Sarasota, Gulf Coast Community Foundation, Capital Good Fund, FDIC, Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, ideas42, the National Disability Institute (NDI), and Wells Fargo bank.

The Summits brought together a diverse set of speakers and panelists to represent both public and private interests, including Ralph Bienne of Suncoast Credit Union, Jason Russ of Wells Fargo, Sherod Halliburton, president of Manatee Community Federal Credit Union and Mayor Rick Kriseman. The keynote speaker Anthony Barrows is Managing Director at ideas42, a behavioral science research group leveraging the power of behavioral science to design scalable solutions for society’s most difficult problems. He argued to “fix the context, not the person” and have policymakers and service-providers make it easier for unbanked and underbanked individuals to get the resources they need. 

Underserved neighborhoods usually have fewer bank branch locations because branches require certain levels of traffic to be profitable. However, many customers still need to visit branches to acquire certain financial products like money orders and receive high-touch services like financial counseling.

Jason Russ of Wells Fargo emphasized the importance of building trust in communities whose residents may be intimidated when visiting an unfamiliar office. By building financial knowledge in consumers, they can budget and save and eventually set their sights on the bigger goal of owning a home, which is critical to minimizing the wealth gap.

More than 20% of consumers get their financial education from their bankers, said April Atkins, a community affairs specialist with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Trust between a consumer and the institution is key to financial literacy. 

As Mayor Kriseman said, “We still have a long way to go with financial inclusion.” But in a room full of community members and leaders passionately discussing how to best serve their community, it is clear we are on our way.

In October 2017, United Way Suncoast was selected as one of five national Bank On Fellowship cities by the CFE Fund. Bank On Suncoast seeks to connect the unbanked and the underbanked to safe, affordable financial services and products.