/HOPE fights tide of vanishing bank branches

HOPE fights tide of vanishing bank branches

Jones is the manager of HOPE Enterprises credit union in Shaw. He has helped many customers, whom they call members, get loans to buy their grandchildren school clothes, pay off payday loans, and fix their cars. After his truck had broken down, a man came into a HOPE branch in Shaw to apply for a loan. Another time, Jones made a woman’s life easier by approving her loan application on the birthday of a customer. Jones stated, “It’s great that we’re there.” The branch is conveniently located on a downtown street parallel to a bayou. This is because data shows that communities without local banks are more likely to suffer than those with them. Officials at credit unions say that Shaw’s HOPE branch, which opened in April, is crucial because both small and large businesses as well as residents can apply for loans. Locals can now withdraw cash cheaply from an ATM (it’s free to members; $2 fee for all others) without needing to drive to Cleveland or Indianola – assuming they have access to a vehicle. Shaw, population 1,878, has a median household income $19,487. This is almost $20,000 lower than the Mississippi average, which is the lowest in the country. However, data shows that having a local bank in rural areas like Shaw can prevent towns from falling further into financial distress. New federal banking data shows the negative impact of closing these banks in one of America’s most poor regions. According to HOPE Policy Institute’s analysis, 37% of Mid-South counties that have suffered from persistent poverty since the Great Recession have lost their bank branches. According to data, Mississippi has lost 55 banks branches since 2011. The analysis was performed by Diane Li, a senior at UNC Chapel Hill and HOPE’s Hodding Car Carter fellow. According to her, closing bank branches is associated with a reduction in small-business lending and a decrease in workforce. The loss of bank branches means former customers are more likely turn to higher-interest options such as payday loans or automobile title loans. These businesses are concentrated in the Mississippi Delta, which has one of the highest concentrations in the country. You’re more likely to save. It’s easier to save money when you have somewhere to stash your money. Li said that you can withdraw money, so you don’t have to buy a car to drive and get cash. This is a national trend that has seen Mississippi bank branches close. SNL Financial reported in 2013 that 1,487 banks branches had closed. Since 2002, the research firm has been tracking this data. Overhead costs can make banking in rural areas more expensive. Interest rates, which are how banks make their money, remain low. Regions Bank, based in Birmingham, decided to consolidate branches and give four branches of its Mississippi Delta branch to HOPE. We are mindful of the potential impact on rural and underserved communities when we make the difficult decision to close a branch. “In the case of Shaw and Drew branches we felt that Hope Credit Union was uniquely able to provide relevant, holistic and sustainable financial services to these communities in a sustained manner,” Evelyn Mitchell (a Regions senior vice president) stated in a statement to Mississippi Today. Ed Sivak (HOPE vice president) said that Regions provided cash for startup costs and customer lists. These aren’t just financial transactions. These facilities are part of our community. We installed the ATMs. Sivak stated that this is something many people in the area have suggested would be of value. Jones, the branch manager said that her policy regarding loan approval is “not yes, but not yet.” Jones added that she uses the opportunity to review their credit reports with them and “this is what you should do” to improve their financial situation. Jones recalls helping a woman to create a plan for her finances after she rejected her application. The loan was approved after the woman stayed true to her plan and returned several months later. Li, a HOPE analyst, stated that these relationships and the ability to access a local bank are crucial for individuals and their communities. She said that while people don’t view banking institutions as essential, they are most important in rural areas. This story has been updated in order to clarify the percentages of Mid-South counties that have seen a decrease in bank branches over the past year._x000D