July 17, 2002 – A local bank is making overtures toward low-income families and the working poor, offering a new service its executives hope will increase the institution's customer base.
Banco Popular of the Virgin Islands recently introduced the Popular Access account, which customers can open with no money and maintain with no minimum balance. There is a $1 monthly charge for the account, which allows the customer to conduct transactions using cash or debit cards and to transfer as little as $5. It's a program that has already been implemented successfully by the institution's parent bank in Puerto Rico.
"Research shows that people who do not have bank accounts face greater difficulties achieving social mobility, improving their quality of life, and are less likely to be homeowners," Banco Popular's regional manager, Valentino McBean, said. "The studies indicate that bringing this population segment into the financial mainstream would result in a greater incidence of savings and asset-building, and thus a window to financial stability."
National statistics show 13 percent of all U.S. households in minority communities have neither checking nor savings accounts. The Banco Popular executives say there are reasons these days for families and banks to re-think the wisdom of allowing that state of affairs to continue.
Raymond Green, the bank's operations manager, pointed to affordable housing initiatives and new trends in social services as reasons that people who have never had a bank account need to start creating their own financial track records.
"We have traditionally regarded banking as the place for the rich, but more and more services are being delivered through the banks," Green said. "Now, you don't need cash at the supermarket or even at the post office; you simply have a debit card — which in our case at Banco Popular is the ATM debit card which can be used in over 400 banking institutions in the Virgin Islands."
Also, he noted, "The federal government is going to start delivering food stamp benefits through a debit card program in the Virgin Islands starting in October … More and more services are being delivered through the financial system."
To introduce the new service, Banco Popular is launching an outreach program called "The Bank in the Community." Representatives will be presenting workshops on savings in housing communities and elsewhere, letting people know about the services available to them once they become part of the banking system.
"The Bank in the Community will provide the opportunity to convey the importance of saving for a rainy day and of engaging in financial planning, both of which are key components of a family's well being," McBean said.
The first workshop was held Tuesday in the Paul M. Pearson Gardens housing community. Nineteen people signed up for new bank accounts, Green said, and he expects to see more customers showing up at the bank's various branches throughout the territory, as was the case in Puerto Rico when the no-balance account was introduced there.
The next banking workshop is set for Saturday, July 27, at Oswald Harris Court.
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