Bill Bynum, CEO of HOPE, penned a piece for Rooflines, a publication by Shelterforce, addressing the rise of mobile banking in the era of branch closures across the Mid-South. In the piece Bynum confronts both the challenges and opportunities of using technology to reach the unbanked and underbanked in the HOPE service area: Arkansas, Louisana, and Mississippi. He writes,

"More than a third of Hope Credit Union’s 30,000 members use our mobile app. We hear that they love the convenience of mobile banking and use it for much more than remote deposit. They pay bills, transfer money between accounts, and track their budgets with a personal finance feature we recently added. Their ATM/debit cards provide safe and inexpensive access to cash. And being able to instantly check one’s account balance has meant many fewer instances of members’ accounts being overdrawn or having checks returned for insufficient funds.

It is, however, important to not oversell the benefits of mobile and online banking—they will not fully erase the deficits people in economically challenged communities face when they try to access financial services. (In fact, though smartphone use is significant among the underserved, a 2015 Federal Reserve study noted that rural residents and African- Americans are still less likely than other groups to own smartphones or have access to high speed internet).

Financial technologies provide quicker access to financial products and services, good or bad, so whether a provider uses the latest technology or relies on traditional strategies, the most important determinant of whether services improve conditions for an underserved population is the nature of the underlying products and services being offered. After all, a predatory lender that draws in customers via the internet is still perpetuating harm."

Read the full piece here


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