Banks — where they are, who they lend to and on what conditions—are a key lever in the American economy. Yet branches are closing at a rapid pace, with more than 3,800 shuttering since 2017. Most of those branches closed in overwhelmingly nonwhite urban neighborhoods in cities like Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit and Las Vegas, but rural communities have also struggled. In some, like Itta Bena, Mississippi, the one or two banks that used to exist are gone. 

“What we have is a system where opportunity is heaped on communities where money is already flowing,” said Bynum, Bill Bynum, CEO of OFN member HOPE Credit Union, which he helped found in 1995 and now has branches in 22 communities. “There are people in places like the Delta with ideas, with dreams and very real needs who also need someone to invest in them.” 

As a nonprofit and member-owned credit union, HOPE can offer many things banks don’t—including short-term loans of $500—but it can’t match a bank in lending power, Bynum said. HOPE, for example, generally can’t lend out the money for multimillion-dollar projects alone, so it has worked with larger institutions on projects such as renovating deteriorating apartment buildings. Access to affordable financial services, right there in town, is important enough that 690 people—the equivalent of 40 percent of Itta Bena’s population—have joined HOPE Credit Union.  

Read the full NBC News article. 

 

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