Press Release: Bank on Houston—an initiative of the City of Houston Controller’s Office to help families become financially empowered—has received a grant from Wells Fargo and United Way of Greater Houston that will enable the program to hire a full-time program coordinator and to also expand its public awareness campaign.
Bank on Houston is a partnership among the Controller’s Office, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas-Houston Branch, the National League of Cities and numerous area financial institutions and non-profit agencies. The program’s initial mission was to assist non-banking citizens in establishing a financial relationship with a bank or credit union, rather than paying high interest rates and one-time check cashing fees to so-called alternate financial institutions—pay-day lenders, auto tile loan companies and pawn shops—where fees can easily amount to thousands of dollars annually. To date, Bank on Houston has referred over 20,000 individuals and families to bank branches that participate in the program. Bank on Houston also works with numerous area agencies that provide financial education counseling and participates in numerous community events promoting financial well-being.
During the funding period, Bank on Houston will closely partner with United Way of Greater Houston THRIVE initiative, a collaborative that helps families achieve financial stability by focusing on three key strategies: increasing income,building savings, acquiring assets.
“This generous grant from Wells Fargo and United Way will allow Bank on Houston to greatly extend its reach into the community,” says City Controller Ronald C. Green. “Our focus is particularly in those neighborhoods where we know more than half of the households are unbanked and living a cash-only lifestyle, which puts those families’ funds at higher risk of loss and theft and inhibits savings.” Adds Green, “Because of United Way THRIVE’s success in helping families gain financial security, we are more confident than ever that we can bring about positive outcomes to families and neighborhoods.”
The grant—funding is $100,000 annually for three years—will address two priorities for Bank on Houston: the hiring of a program coordinator to oversee communication efforts with the banking and non-profit agency partners, and spearhead renewed marketing and public information into selected geographic areas of Houston. Since its beginning in 2008, Bank on Houston has been a quasi-volunteer effort through the Controller’s Office, and the program has sustained itself financially through donations from banking partners.
“This is an exciting opportunity for both Bank on Houston and United Way THRIVE,” says Fran Rosebush, Senior Manager, United Way of Greater Houston Community Investment. “We have common goals of supporting families along their paths to financial stability, and this opportunity will allow us to better work together and help families in our community achieve their goals.” In its fourth year of operation, United Way THRIVE helped over 44,000 families gain greater financial stability, seen more than 4,200 families increase their savings and assisted more than 31,000 families claim $41 million in tax refunds.
“Wells Fargo intends to open its doors and welcome any individual or family wanting to establish a banking relationship,” says Wells Fargo Regional President Glenn Godkin. “And we will carry that message to our colleagues in other banking institutions. Banks become strong because of their customers’ loyalty, and communities become stronger through the financial independence of those residents and families. Wells Fargo is proud to be a part of this effort.”
“We have hundreds of success stories, and they each give the same lesson,” says Controller Green. “Having a relationship with a stable financial institution—whether it is a local bank branch or a credit union—goes a long way towards asset building: having a reliable vehicle, buying a home, saving for a college education and having some savings for an emergency. These are good things for a family, and for the community as a whole. With these grant funds, we hope to greatly expand this kind of success in Houston in 2013.”