Banking The Poor in Today’s Global Economy:

The Opportunity is There, Let’s Open It!

By John Hope Bryant

As chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE, which I founded immediately after the worst urban civil unrest in U.S. history resulting from the1992 Rodney King case, I commend former President Bill Clinton and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on their forward looking op-ed on financial services and the poor. Published in today’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, the compelling piece speaks not only to the reality of financial services desperately needed for America’s underserved, it also speaks to an obvious opportunity to do well by doing good for the private sector.

In 1968, Andrew Young worked with his friend and colleague Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to launch what would prove to be King’s last movement, the Poor People’s Campaign. The revered civil rights leader was seeking to integrate not just the lunch counters, but the dollar as well. 40 years later, Young, now our global spokesman at Operation HOPE, has joined me in calling for a silver rights bill, or a bank account for every American. Young believes that if Dr. King were alive today, he would be advocating for all "banking on the poor" and I agree. Free enterprise and capitalism must work for the poor. Not for charity mind you, but rather enlightened self-interest.

40 million Americans with no bank account, with more than 20 million of them receiving a regular check without any sort of bank account to put it into, is a genuine market opportunity; an opportunity for banks, credit unions and the global financial industry sector.

Getting banks to provide mainstream access to monetary services is also the best way to put unscrupulous payday lenders and others out of business — its called competition, and there is simply not enough of it in the urban, inner city and low-wealth communities we serve.

Former President Clinton and California Governor Schwarzenegger call it "Bank on California," seeing it as a bi-partisan, or better still, non-partisan way to address this inescapable reality. We call this work our "silver rights movement," a post civil rights movement for those economically left behind.

America should call it progress.

At Operation HOPE, our work has been characterized as a "radical movement of common sense." I truly believe there is a radical yet practical opportunity of common sense for leaders of America’s financial institutions to begin thinking outside the box in this regard. At a time when the rules of "good business" are all being re-written, finding a practical way to serve the poor is ultimately what’s needed to bank America’s future. And that’s a gift each of us should certainly be anxious to open.

John Hope Bryant is Founder of Operation HOPE, the leading non-profit, social investment, banking and financial literacy empowerment organization dedicated to poverty eradication worldwide.

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