Bringing Hope to Bank Deserts

Social Justice

In the wake of the 2008 recession, more than 1,800 banks closed across the country—the vast majority of them in low-income communities. The closures left a damaging void that predatory payday lenders and check cashers quickly swooped in to fill. Even before the financial crisis, residents and business owners in poor areas often struggled with a lack of reliable financing. With few alternatives, many faced a painful choice: accept predatory loans with sky-high interest rates or be forced to close up shop.

Enter Hope Credit Union, one of a growing cadre of Community Development Financial Institutions that are transforming the banking industry by expanding access to all.

HOPE is member-owned, and was founded in 1994 with the singular goal of serving communities lacking in traditional banking services. It has tripled in size since the recession—growing from seven to twenty-two branches and from 9,000 to 33,000 members. More than a quarter of the counties identified by the United States Treasury as “persistent poverty areas”—where the poverty level has exceeded 20 percent for three decades in a row—are part of Hope’s service area today.

In 2015, HOPE opened its newest branches in Itta Bena and Moorhead—two impoverished towns in the heart of the Mississippi Delta—and offered residents there what it offers to communities across the country: hope, the promise enshrined in its name. With the help of HOPE’s financial experts and planning tools, leaders in the two towns can make progress on economic development projects, including expansions of affordable housing, health centers, and schools. Individuals can open savings accounts and obtain fair terms on loans to put toward monthly expenses and invest in brighter futures.

Still, HOPE’s reach—while expanding—remains small when compared to the level of need. That’s why, to multiply its impact and assist those beyond its designated service areas, Hope Credit Union has made policy advocacy and action an important part of its mission. The Hope Policy Institute uses data from HOPE’s direct service work to inform policies at the national and state levels focused on curtailing payday lending and encouraging increased investment in critical infrastructure.

Together, HOPE’s banking services and policy work are improving prospects for communities across the country, and giving individuals of all backgrounds a shot at self-reliance and a more hopeful future.

What's Next