Editor’s note: A version of this story also appeared in the 2018 Wells Fargo Annual Report.
When Yvonne Green was growing up, her family of seven had limited resources. Even so, her parents, who cleaned houses and worked for the City of Houston, taught her and her siblings the importance of saving. Years later, after the death of her mother, Green learned her parents had accumulated about $25,000 in debt, mostly from the costs of raising five children. Green helped her father come up with a financial plan to pay off the debt over six years, and when he died in 2009, her father was debt-free.
“The lessons I learned from an early age fuel my passion for working with Bank On.”
— Yvonne Green
Today, Green is helping other people in Houston reach their financial goals. “I’m reminded daily of all that my father achieved and the lessons of saving as much of my money as I can, while at the same time, avoiding taking on debt that cannot be managed,” Green said. “My dad’s legacy lives on through my work at Bank On Houston, and for that I am truly grateful.”
Green is one of five full-time Bank On fellows who work with local coalitions in communities around the country to build financial capacity in the workforce and in their communities. In 2017, Wells Fargo invested $1 million to launch the Bank On Fellowship with Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund, or CFE Fund, which has a mission to improve the financial stability of low- and moderate-income households by embedding financial empowerment strategies into local government and community infrastructure. In 2018, Wells Fargo announced an additional $1 million grant to expand the Bank On Fellowship and continue support of Bank On.
Providing economic empowerment in underserved communities
The Bank On Fellowship program connects residents in Mobile, Alabama; New Haven, Connecticut; Summit County, Ohio; Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Sarasota, Florida; and Houston to safe and affordable financial products that meet the Bank On National Account Standards — offering features such as low costs and no overdraft fees. Wells Fargo’s commitment provides match funding, combined with additional funding from a local organization in each coalition, to support a full-time staff position in each location.
The purpose of the program is to address the needs of those who are unbanked and underbanked. According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, about 6.5 percent of U.S. households, or about 14 million adults, are unbanked, meaning they do not have a checking or savings account. More than 18 percent of U.S. households, or about 49 million adults, are underbanked — they have some kind of bank account but use expensive, alternate financial services, like check cashers, payday lenders, and pawnshops. The reasons people turn to these services instead of banks or credit unions include not having enough money for the minimum balance; distrust of financial institutions; high or unpredictable fees; or identification, credit, or banking history problems, according to the FDIC.
“The Bank On program is all about communicating the benefits of accounts and saving more,” said Lisa Price, Community Relations senior consultant for Wells Fargo in Phoenix. “It doesn’t promote one financial institution over another.”
One of Wells Fargo’s philanthropic priorities is economic empowerment in underserved communities, which includes increasing the financial capability of the underbanked. In 2016, the company announced its 2020 corporate social responsibility commitment, priorities, and goals to improve the company, local communities, and the planet over a five-year period.
“We had started looking at what we were doing as a company to support the underbanked,” said Shelley Marquez, Community Relations senior manager for Wells Fargo in Denver. “That led to a lot of the work with the Bank On program and the start of the Bank On Fellowship. For an investment like this, bringing financial capabilities to individuals, it’s important to support that body of work and carry that message into communities.”
‘It’s like wearing many and all hats day to day’
Thanks to her parents, Green has had a bank account since she was 16 and working at her first job. “Knowing I could save money at that age and make it a habit, it didn’t seem like such a big deal then,” Green said. “Growing up, credit and alternative financial products weren’t as available as they are today, so we were almost forced to learn how to closely manage our money. Now it seems difficult for people to save.”
In her role, Green works with consumers, leaders from local government and community organizations, and financial institutions to connect those in need with safe financial products. This includes speaking at city hall, attending local events, and meeting with people in the community or individuals who call her office. “It’s like wearing many and all hats day to day,” Green said. “In addition to talking with financial institutions to see if they are on board, I’m also integrating systems so people can sign up for accounts that meet the Bank On National Account Standards.”
Over the past year, many of the people Green has helped have been able to save money — and they say they feel less stressed as a result.
“The lessons I learned from an early age fuel my passion for working with Bank On,” Green said. “Through the examples set by my dad, I’ve committed myself to help others reach their financial goals. I believe that sharing my and my father’s story can help communities understand the importance of financial empowerment and the work of Bank On Houston. By utilizing safe and affordable products that meet Bank On National Account Standards, families can not only begin to build better financial practices and accumulate wealth, they can also leave a lasting legacy for their children and communities for generations to come.”