What Bankers Can Learn Walking in Underbanked’s Shoes

By Karen Andres and Romy Parzick

If you were to browse through our company’s digital photo album, you would spot some interesting shots: A banker at a pawn shop, getting a quote on his Ivy League class ring. A payments executive in a check cashing outlet, trying (and ultimately failing) to cash a personal check. A financial technology senior business leader loading cash onto her prepaid mobile phone account.

Since our inception, the Center for Financial Services Innovation has convened financial services companies from across the entire supply chain for signature thought leadership programs designed to accelerate the development of profitable, high-quality products and services for the underserved. During the past year, as part of our roundtable programming, we have stepped out of the boardroom for some experiential learning. The “Underbanked Experience” module developed by CFSI allows us to step into the shoes of underserved individuals to understand firsthand the mechanics of managing money by patching together a variety of financial services providers.

Donning jeans and T-shirts, senior executives from large companies like Bank of America, Western Union, and Visa, and smaller financial institutions like Redstone Federal Credit Union and Community & Southern Bank joined us as teams ventured into low-to-moderate income neighborhoods in New York City and Chicago to complete a series of financial challenges. These included: cashing both personal and payroll checks, buying and loading a prepaid card, originating and receiving a money transfer and topping-up mobile minutes. Executives were charged with taking public transportation to visit and transact with payday lenders, check cashers, pawn shops, credit unions and traditional banks.

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