By John Hope Bryant, Founder, Chairman, and CEO, Operation HOPE, Inc.
Take a look around—there are more check cashers and payday lenders in America than there are Starbucks! And, today, a person does not have to be poor and destitute to be targeted by the predatory lending sector. The ‘teetering class’—the 63% of Americans that say they’re unable to afford a $500 car repair or a $1,000 emergency room bill, according to a recent Money Pulse survey by Bankrate.com; people with more ‘month’ at the end of their money, are at greatest risk.
U.S. Census Bureau data reveals that 73% of American households make $50,000 or less per year. Many are located in low-credit-score communities devoid of resources and opportunity, that are potentially underserved by the traditional financial system which has evolved into a more technology driven structure.
Serving as the private banker to the less than affluent—the working poor, the working class, and the struggling middle class, around the nation; essentially bridging the gap between being unqualified and being bankable, are HOPE Inside offices. The HOPE Inside model has allowed private financial institutions to scale, and sustainably package and deliver, financial literacy and empowerment programming, free to the client. HOPE Inside had its genesis in bank branches, but widespread market adoption continues to bring sponsored offices to government facilities, grocery stores, hospitals, and other community locations.
Our goal is 1,000 HOPE Inside locations by 2020. Today, there are 48 existing locations across the nation, and commitments for more than 130 new offices within the next 18 months. With strategic partners, including, SunTrust, Bank of the West, Mutual of Omaha, Wells Fargo, Coca-Cola, Whole Foods, and First Tennessee Bank, Operation HOPE is delivering financial empowerment to communities that need it most, including, here in the Atlanta area.
Our flagship location, HOPE Inside Ebenezer, opened in 2009 at the Martin Luther King, Sr. Community Resources Complex, in honor of “Daddy King,” who, alongside pastoring the church, was a businessman; serving on the board of a bank for more than 40 years. Since then, HOPE Inside SunTrust (Luckie St.) and HOPE Inside BB&T (Gresham Rd.) have followed. Two special hybrid installations launched recently—HOPE Inside Hyatt Regency Atlanta, and HOPE Inside Atlanta Police Department, to bring financial literacy and empowerment resources to the workplace as an employee financial wellness benefit.
The client experience at HOPE Inside is rooted in financial dignity and empowerment. The personalized one-on-one coaching process integrates four key steps: 1) Giving back dignity, 2) Reintroducing individuals to themselves, 3) Offering redemption, and 4) Providing opportunities through purpose-driven projects. Clients are counseled on the language of money and work with Operation HOPE financial wellbeing coaches to transform established financial mindsets, and to develop customized action plans around building their own businesses, raising their credit scores, buying homes, or simply making better decisions with the money they have.
Programs include credit and money management support, home buyer counseling, and entrepreneurship training Every office holds consumer credit counseling certification, CFPB, FDIC, U.S. SBA, EITC, HUD, and FEMA applications and partnerships. Through HOPE Inside, Operation HOPE is the only organization certified by the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council to operate within a bank.
Through the HOPE 700 Credit Score Communities initiative, the focus on raising client credit scores to 700, and thereby bringing financial uplift to communities is at the foundation of all HOPE Inside programming. This initiative has been quietly moving credit scores within communities an average of 120 points over 18-24 months! We work to get bankers out of the ‘no’ business, and into the ‘yes’ business, by helping to rehabilitate the credit, financial, and overall wellbeing profile of the HOPE client, and the future bank borrower, and by extension, the community as a whole.
The collective way forward around community empowerment must be building up communities torn down and incapacitated by lack of equity. Through a powerful new initiative based on sustainable, transformational, community change at scale, Operation HOPE is accelerating the packaging and deployment of Project 5117 programs throughout the nation to revive the economy, particularly in hard-hit urban cities now consumed with neighborhood ills like predatory lending and low credit scores, and strengthen low- and middle-income families. America Uplift 2020 is in motion now in cities like Detroit, Las Vegas, and Atlanta.
Operation HOPE is building an economy that works for all, grounded in the belief that everyone—regardless of their backstory, deserves a life filled with financial dignity and opportunity. Under the banner of “Silver Rights”—rights to financial literacy, access to capital, and equity of opportunity, for all, we are leading a new movement aligned with a new moment in American history.
About Financial Inclusion
Operation HOPE, Inc., powers the broadest financial inclusion network in the country. Through strategic partnerships with organizations like SunTrust Banks, Wells Fargo, and Coca-Cola, the nonprofit is making free enterprise accessible to all by equipping youth and adults with the financial training and tools to realize their aspirations and ensure their financial wellbeing. Through its core programs, Operation HOPE has provided financial dignity and economic empowerment to over 2.6 million individuals worldwide, and $2 billion in economic activity for the disenfranchised—turning check cashing customers into banking customers, renters into homeowners, small business dreamers into small business owners, and minimum wage workers into living wage consumers. Project 5117 is the organization’s multi-year four-pronged approach to combating economic inequality that aims to improve financial literacy, increase business role models and business internships for youth, and stabilize the American dream by boosting credit scores. The Atlanta Uplift 2020 initiative will escalate the organization’s services throughout the city to strengthen low- and middle-income families. For more information: www.OperationHOPE.org
Volunteer with HOPE Corps: http://www.operationhope.org/hopecorps
Learn more about membership levels: https://www.operationhope.org/becomeapartner