CUs join in South Dakota underserved banking project

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Credit Union Times
By: Jim Rubenstein
November 29, 2011

CUs join in South Dakota underserved banking project

Bank Transfer Day with all its attention on high fees may have come and gone but the kickoff this month for a locally sponsored campaign in Rapid City, S.D., against payday lenders is drawing new attention to the efforts of credit unions and community banks to aid the underserved.

But, city leaders say, it remains to be seen what impact the "Bank on Rapid City" venture will have in reducing payday dependence. The Dakota venture is modeled after a League of U.S. Cities initiative which got its start in San Francisco and is now in 50 cities.

"We have been doing the preparation and the financial training for nearly a year now and it just so happens" the launch by the city's Community Development Division came in the midst of the Bank Transfer Day media blitz, said Barb Garcia, coordinator for Bank on Rapid City.

The city launched its program Nov. 14 with a goal "to increase access to banks and credit unions and help citizens avoid high fees and interest rates that prevent them from building savings and becoming financially stable."

Four FCUs - Black Hills, Minuteman Community, Sentinel and Highmark - along with three banks signed on for the program, offering low-fee starter savings and checking accounts to "unbanked" and "underbanked" people, as well as "second chance" accounts for people who might otherwise be turned away but agree to participate in a financial education course, said Garcia.

Payday lenders, said Garcia, provide a needed service in quickly lending small amounts of money - $500 and under - to people who need it and these "are niches that traditional banks won't handle."

But the 400% rates that payday shops are charging in South Dakota are harming the people they serve, Garcia said.

Officials of the $910 million Black Hills FCU, the state's largest, said it was actively supporting the "Bank on Rapid City" program to serve the unbanked. They also noted that Bank Transfer Day itself was mostly a non-event in western South Dakota, with negligible account movement reported.

Wells Fargo has a local presence and pulled out of the "Bank on Rapid City" effort, Garcia said, adding that it was a decision "by its corporate managers outside of Rapid City" after it began implementing $3 debit fees.

The California bank later halted the fees in South Dakota and other states after Bank of America's planned new fees kicked off the Bank Transfer Day phenomenon.

The 'Bank on Rapid City" program, said a release, is designed to "create relationships among local governments, citizens, local banks and credit unions and community partners to ensure that all residents have access to bank accounts, financial education and other asset-building opportunities."

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