By Corey CarlisleOperation HOPE founder John Hope Bryant serves on the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability and is on a mission to end the cycle of poverty in America. Regions Bank is helping make that happen by expanding the reach of Bryant’s nonprofit in St. Louis. The two organizations announced plans in April to offer financial education and money management counseling to underserved residents there.
Regions will provide workspace facilities and operational support within its branch, where a certified Operation HOPE counselor will be present to meet with clients during regular business hours. The grand opening of the new “HOPE Inside” location was held in June in Regions’ New Halls Ferry branch in the town of Florissant—right outside of the protest-scarred community of Ferguson in the St. Louis suburbs—but will later move to a new branch being built in nearby Jennings.
“Our work with HOPE Inside, and the investments we are making in our new location in Jennings, are a natural extension of our commitment to north St. Louis County,” says Mike Hart, Midwest area president for Regions Bank. “That commitment also includes sharing financial education for students and parents in local schools—as well as helping locally based small businesses grow and thrive. It’s a comprehensive approach designed to help more people in North County achieve success. When our communities succeed, we all succeed.”
Birmingham, Ala.-based Regions and other banks, such as Bank of the West in Oakland, Calif., Popular Community Bank in the Bronx, New York, and SunTrust in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, partner with Operation HOPE to provide HOPE Inside locations, but this will be the first location in the state of Missouri. At each site, counselors work with clients to help them improve credit scores, understand and use credit wisely, and strengthen their overall financial management skills. In turn, these skills help individuals become better prepared for homeownership, avoid foreclosure and achieve other financial goals. The services are free, regardless of whether the person is a customer of the bank.
People that visit Missouri’s HOPE Inside location will have access to HUD-certified mortgage counseling, certified consumer credit counseling, mortgage mitigation, financial literacy curriculum, and training for entrepreneurship and small business. Clients will also receive assistance in filing for the Earned Income Tax Credit. Future plans include offering services to encourage use of the Treasury Department’s myRA savings program as well as emergency financial disaster preparedness, response and recovery services.
“This is about creating a thriving economy in Ferguson, Florissant and north St. Louis County through financial empowerment and financial dignity,” says Bryant. “These are 500-credit-score communities, in which we can make a big difference by raising credit scores above 700.”
Indeed, having a fair to good credit score can reduce the need for customers to rely on paying cash for certain transactions as well as provide both access and preferential terms on automobile and home loans. “Our work with HOPE Inside can raise a person’s credit score as much as 120 points over 24 months,” Bryant says. “Even a modest improvement here can make all the difference in getting approved for credit, determining how much credit you are eligible to receive and just how much you’ll have to pay back.”
Such modest steps are the key to achieving Operation HOPE’s goal of financially empowering disadvantaged populations. With the help of banks, communities in St. Louis and elsewhere are coming closer to that goal.