Banks Are Leaders in Improving Financial Well-Being

The country is very divided right now and at an important crossroads for many reasons, and with the elections occurring in 2 weeks, the divisions that exist are further amplified in the news and advertising.  

As bankers, all of you are well-respected leaders in your local communities, often looked to not only for service on charitable and other boards, but also  your actions both in serving your customers with care and honesty, and in providing financial support and volunteer assistance in your communities. Your role as a leader has never been more important than it is now.  

There are many aspects of leadership I could discuss but today I want to focus on the mission you carry out each day in helping all people improve their financial well-being. The FDIC issued a report yesterday sharing positive news that a record 95 percent of U.S. households had a bank or credit union account in 2019, according to a new biennial survey, How America Banks; Household Use of Banking and Financial Services. While the record low of unbanked in 2019 was 5.4 percent, this equates to 7.1 million households so there is room for improvement. FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams stated in the release that “It is encouraging that a record number of households had bank accounts in 2019, though we continue to pursue actions to create a more inclusive banking system.” 

In the FDIC survey, nearly half of the unbanked households reported they did not have a bank account because they did not have enough money to meet minimum balance requirements and about one-third of unbanked households stated they did not have an account because they did not trust banks. I know many Wisconsin banks have accounts that either don’t have a minimum balance requirement or have an extremely low minimum balance requirement. It is important that this message be widely shared.  

Recently, the ABA announced that 20 core technology providers, including Fiserv, FIS, Jack Henry, and UFS, have committed to simplify the process for their bank clients to create and offer a “Bank On-certified account.” Bank On is a program created by the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund which certifies banks for having accounts with key features such as low costs, no overdraft fees, robust transaction capabilities via a debit or prepaid card, and free online bill pay. Several WBA members already are certified as offering Bank On accounts largely through a coalition that began in Milwaukee in 2018; now with the commitment of the cores, it is easier to join the Bank On movement.     

WBA staff continue to actively look for ways to partner with members to correct the perception that banks are not inclusive enough or offer products to attract the unbanked. Last week, WBA’s legal counsel, Heather MacKinnon, participated in a 90-minute virtual town hall with leaders in La Crosse to help answer the public’s questions about minority access to the banking system. These conversations are important to have, and WBA staff are available to help participate in the dialogue and, more importantly, take action for positive change. 

These last several months, we’ve seen many examples of Wisconsin banks and bankers stepping up and leaning in to this responsibility not only by earmarking funds for specific financial programs, but also by listening closer to the pain of others, and searching for actionable steps we can all take to progress further for everyone.  

Please share with me your ideas and suggestions for ways WBA can better assist you as a partner in this critically important dual-effort of helping the unbanked and improving inclusivity.  


By, Eric Skrum