The Financial Journey is a unique series focused on financial education and opportunities. These stories have been created through a strategic partnership between Wells Fargo and Word In Black.
By Donnell Suggs
On a Friday morning in Atlanta’s West End neighborhood a Wells Fargo bank branch was buzzing with activity. Many regular customers and non-account holders alike made their way into the bank to make transactions or stop by the two exterior ATMs to do their business.
For many people the bank can be a safe financial place where their money is working for them and their families, and for so many others locked out of the banking world, it can be a much different space. For the unbanked, people without a mainstream bank account, for example, a trip to the bank can be overwhelming and, in some cases, expensive and even intimidating.
Inside the Wells Fargo branch on the corner of Lee Street and Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. is a HOPE Inside center.
Wells Fargo bank and Atlanta-based non-profit organization Operation HOPE have teamed up through the Banking Inclusion Initiative to introduce HOPE Inside centers, which aim to help make banking better and more inclusive for everyone. The two organizations have worked together for decades, and that relationship has helped get the Banking Inclusion Initiative off to a strong start.
This Banking Inclusion Initiative is Wells Fargo’s 10-year commitment to help more people who are unbanked gain access to affordable, mainstream bank accounts, with a focus on removing barriers to financial inclusion for Black and African American, Hispanic and Native American households – communities that have institutionally and systematically been ignored.
Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans account for more than half of the 5.9 million unbanked U.S. households and 18.7 million underbanked households in the country, according to FDIC data provided to The Atlanta Voice by Wells Fargo. The majority of the HOPE Inside centers are in more urban city centers, but there has been a move to get centers in more rural areas, Wells Fargo Executive Vice President, Head of Banking Inclusion Darlene Goins told The Atlanta Voice.
There are Wells Fargo HOPE Inside centers within 11 select markets that are strategically placed to serve underserved and unbanked communities. The HOPE Inside centers are located in Atlanta, including Stone Mountain and West End, Houston, Minneapolis, Newark, Oakland, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Harlem and most recently, Gallup, New Mexico. Native Americans make up 47% of the city’s population, according to the latest census data.
“Over the next several months we are going to be expanding into more rural areas,” Goins said. Goins has been with Wells Fargo for nearly eight years. “We actually looked at the demographics of each of the markets to determine where we would work with Operation HOPE to put a HOPE Inside center in our branches.”
The companies looked at areas of the country with large concentrations of unbanked and underserved communities with the greatest need, such as the Atlanta area. The HOPE Inside center in Stone Mountain was introduced in 2022. The West End Wells Fargo branch, for example, is surrounded by African, Muslim and Black American businesses. “We looked at areas with large percentages of unbanked or underbanked individuals,” Goins added. “Coming out of the pandemic we saw that communities of color were disproportionately impacted on all levels, so we felt it was important for us as one of the largest community banks in the country to build on existing efforts and really work to make a difference in helping people who historically have had difficulty getting ahead.”
The HOPE Inside coaches will seek to empower community members with free financial education and guidance, such as helping them improve their credit scores. This financial education can help reduce the fees that so many unbanked and underbanked households incur from high-cost alternatives such as check cashing, payday loans, title loans and ATM fees that can quickly add up. “Being able to make banking more inclusive can have an immediate positive financial impact,” says Goins.
Wells Fargo had also been in a business relationship with Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs), having invested in 13 MDIs such as Citizens Trust Bank, which has branches in Castleberry Hill and on the Westside, for example. “Citizens Trust Bank customers can use our Wells Fargo ATMs without paying fees from Wells Fargo as well,” Goins said.
“A fully functioning society is ultimately a community that is thriving. A thriving community is a place where people are investing, building, and expanding economically,” said Operation HOPE Financial coach Jaimelle Harden, who is based at the Stone Mountain branch.
There is also an educational advantage to the HOPE Inside centers. The financial education and guidance that customers can get via their bank is also provided to HOPE Inside clients. “We knew it was something we couldn’t tackle alone, it was going to take collaboration with trusted organizations that can bring the unique voices of the communities that they serve to the table and really work with us to foster that economic advancement for diverse communities,” Goins said of collaboration with Operation HOPE.
Harden, a financial wellbeing coach, believes understanding customer’s financial needs on a more personal basis can help them reach financial goals much better.
“I create an action plan that starts with budgeting, access to tools to enhance their savings, and a blueprint for establishing or rebuilding their credit,” Harden said. “Through strategic alliances and partnerships in the community, I can connect my clients with representatives who can help get them in position for a home loan, help them start a business, and prepare for retirement.” HOPE Inside is a free service available to the community. You do not have to be a Wells Fargo customer to take advantage. The Stone Mountain HOPE Inside center is located at 6063 Memorial Dr, Stone Mountain, GA 30083 and the West End HOPE Inside center is located at 612 Lee St SW, Atlanta, GA 30310.
Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. is a member of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.