Bank On Oregon Hopes to Serve Unbanked, Under-Banked Consumers Across the State

Credit unions, banks, government agencies and nonprofit organizations are banding together to create a statewide Bank On program in Oregon that would increase access to financial services for the state’s unbanked and under-banked consumers.

The goal, organizers say, is to create a kind of matchmaking service that connects people to financial institutions that can offer safe and affordable products and nonprofit educators who can help create a path to a more secure financial future.

If all goes as planned, says Brian Stewart of JPMorgan Chase, that service should be ready for testing this summer and up and running this fall. Much of the work is already under way, but members still are needed for committees working on standards of participation, marketing and website design, financial education and more.

Stewart is coordinating the statewide effort, along with United Way of Lane County’s Elena Fracchia. The overriding question, he says, “is how do we get away from saying ‘no’?”

Turns out many Oregonians have heard “no” a lot.

Nearly a fifth of Oregon households do not have access to basic financial services like checking or savings accounts, according to a national FDIC survey of unbanked and under-banked families. Instead, they turn to payday loans, pawn shops and check-cashing facilities to meet their financial needs, and the high fees they encounter often trap them in a cycle of debt.

Smaller Bank On programs have tried to address the problem on a local level, most recently in central Oregon. But Bank On Oregon’s philosophy is that the economic stability gained through increased access to financial services benefits the entire state, and that a statewide collaboration between consumer advocates, financial educators, banks and credit unions, state and local governments, and community organizations is a smarter way to centralize information, ensure quality product offerings and ease consumer entry into the financial marketplace.

“While this is the kind of thing credit unions do every day, I think this is a great opportunity to collaborate with so many different stakeholders who all care about providing services for the unbanked and under-banked members of our communities,” says Kim Vu, the Northwest Credit Union Association’s vice president for community investment and social impact. Vu, who is also executive director of the Northwest Credit Union Foundation, sits on Bank On Oregon’s steering committee. “It also presents a unique opportunity for us to spread the credit union philosophy to an even wider audience.”

When the Bank On Oregon website goes live – in English and Spanish — this summer, it will help consumers answer some basic questions:

  • Why do I need an account? The easy answer, of course, is to save money, and a cool calculator will show how much consumers can save when they stop paying to cash checks and buy money orders. The site will also address safety, convenience and the wisdom of saving for the future.
  • How do I open an account? Consumers will be able to choose the best option for them by comparing up-to-date listings from financial institutions for low- or no-cost checking and savings accounts, “Second Chance” accounts and more. The site will also explain the steps necessary to open an account, including any financial education requirements.
  • How do I manage my finances? Consumers will find a list of educational providers on the site and a schedule of in-person classes, online training and financial coaching.    

The website also will provide a spot for centralized reporting so that Bank On Oregon partners can measure the impact of their participation. A variety of financial institutions have already shown interest, from Albina Community Bank, Banner Bank, U.S. Bank and Chase to Maps Credit Union, Oregon Community Credit Union, Point West Credit Union, Trailhead Credit Union and others.

Representatives from the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services and the city of Portland sit on the steering committee. The Oregon Bankers Association and the NWCUA are involved, as are nonprofits like United Way of Lane County, Neighborhood Partnerships and Innovative Changes.

Credit unions interested in joining Bank On Oregon can learn more by contacting Stewart at brian.stewart@jpmchase.com or Fracchia at efracchia@unitedwaylane.org. For more information about volunteering for a committee, contact Janet Byrd at jbyrd@neighborhoodpartnerships.org.

Questions about this story? Contact Gary M. Stein: 503.350.2216, gstein@nwcua.org.

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