I had the pleasure of speaking with Michelle Laymon, Family Economic Success Manager at Cope about the financial program, Bank on Napa. She explained to me that many Napa County low-income residents are financially under-served. There are a few reasons for these obstacles to financial services: language barriers, lack of knowledge or distrust of banks, or undocumented status. Many are unbanked (do not have a bank account) and spend considerably more of their money on expensive alternative banking options such as check cashing or payday lending services than they would on regular banking fees. Others are under-banked, and have an account but still utilize expensive options for paying bills such as money orders and cashiers checks. “…unbanked customers spend at least two percent of income to access alternative financial services, spending between $800-$2000 annually to cash checks and pay bills” (Michele Grupe, Bank on Napa Valley). With approximately 26.5% of Napa County residents living with incomes too small to pay all of their expenses, these additional banking fees are detrimental to their ability to utilize all of their income (Michele Grupe, Bank on Napa Valley). As Michelle says, Bank on Napa Valley helps residents hang on to more of their money.
What is Bank on Napa Valley? Bank on Napa Valley is based on other successful Bank On initiatives (San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento, to name a few), and is a collaborative effort of the Self-Sufficiency Committee of the Napa Valley Coalition of Nonprofit Agencies (Michele Grupe, Bank on Napa Valley). Their goal is to connect working people and families with banking services to fit their needs, helping them to enter the financial mainstream (Michele Grupe, Bank on Napa Valley). The BONV Steering Committee is made up of Cope Family Center as lead agency, Puertas Abiertas, McPherson Family Resource Center, Calistoga Family Center and NEWS. The goal of the BONV committees is to design and provide a minimum of five financial starter and second chance accounts, as well as financial education; soliciting 15 financial institutions to provide the products by the January 2013 launch. At least 100 eligible consumers will be surveyed as to their financial needs. The desired outcome of a program like Bank on Napa Valley is that working families can have access to low or no-cost bank accounts that help them to save their hard-earned dollars, function productively in a financial emergency, and invest in their futures. The financial education provided by BONV will go a long way to support a healthy financial lifestyle such as learning to budget and identifying needs versus wants in a culturally sensitive way.
Local banks are crucial to the success of the BONV program. Sandra J. Re, Vice President/Premier Client Services Officer of Rabo Bank, sums it up by saying, “Our goal is to offer banking services to those who are uncomfortable with the idea of banking. If we can educate people about the services a bank can offer them that can make their lives easier as well as save them time and money, we can make Bank on Napa Valley a ‘win-win’ for everyone.”
By Jennifer Sunseri, Cope Online Organizing Intern