By James Owen
Most of us don’t think twice about how easy it is to access money. If you’re like me, it’s so easy you can do it before your first cup of coffee.
Select, swipe, sip.
But for too many Arkansans, just accessing their money is a challenge. Nationally, seven percent of people are unbanked and 19.9 percent are underbanked. In Arkansas, those numbers are even more striking: 9.7 percent and 22.6 percent.
To illustrate these challenges, Southern Bancorp partnered with the Financial Health Network to host FinX, an empathy-building event in which participants complete a series of daily tasks like cashing a paycheck, moving money to another person, and buying household items.
But there’s a catch: they cannot use traditional banking services like debit cards or direct deposit. Instead, participants must rely on alternative financial services (AFS) like reloadable cash cards, check cashers, or wire transfers. Tasks that may take a person with a banking relationship five minutes to do often take the full two-hour event. Then there’s the fees that come with most AFS transactions.
On top of building empathy, the event also highlighted a potential solution.
Bank On Arkansas+ started – quite literally – as a big idea to build a coalition of public, private, and nonprofit partners to help decrease the ranks of the unbanked and underbanked populations by offering a safe, easy-to-use bank account.
As Southern Bancorp CEO Darrin Williams said in the initial Arkansas Times Big Idea Pitch, “The national “Bank On” movement is an attempt to address the problem by encouraging financial institutions to join together and encourage one another to create “safe” accounts, low-cost bank accounts that provide households with a safe place to save, conduct basic financial business and build a credit history.”
Bringing the national movement – started by the Cities for Financial Empowerment (CFE) Fund – to Arkansas added to the 84 coalitions and over 22,000 bank or credit union branches across the country that offer a Bank On Account. The organization’s goal is to “ensure that everyone has access to a safe and affordable bank or credit union account.”
Southern’s BankOn certified product – called the Opportunity Card – is available throughout Southern’s markets and features a low monthly fee, no overdraft or non-sufficient fund fees, no minimum opening deposit, free bill pay, check cashing, and online and mobile banking. Similar accounts can be found throughout the state at other coalition member’s institutions.
Since its beginning, the BankOn Arkansas+ coalition has grown to over 60 private, public, and nonprofit entities.
Last Tuesday, the coalition added its newest member when Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott announced that the City of Little Rock was joining the Bank On Arkansas+ coalition. The announcement followed the Mayor’s participation in FinX, and marks the first municipal partnership.
“By working together in a public-private partnership, financial institutions, community organizations, and governments can work to alleviate poverty by giving citizens tools they need to reduce debt, build savings and create stronger financial foundations here in Little Rock and beyond,” Williams said.
For more information on BankOn Arkansas+, visit https://www.bankonar.org/.
For more information about the national Bank On movement, visit http://joinbankon.org/.