CU Today: CU’s role as oasis in ‘financial desert’ recognized in national report

CU Today, June 17, 2019: CU’s role as oasis in ‘financial desert’ recognized in national report

ITTA BENA, Miss.—A “financial desert” and the importance of one credit union’s ATM in one of the most impoverished areas of the United States was featured in an extensive national report.

This Mississippi Delta town’s only ATM belongs to Hope Credit Union and is the only financial services outlet in the town of 1,828. The machine runs out of money as often as twice a week, reported NBC News. The one store in town does not accept plastic cards, and the going rate for being driven to the nearest town is $20 for those without vehicles, the report stated, adding, “In Itta Bena, money-sharing apps such as Venmo haven’t yet caught on.”

The NBC report notes that some 3,800 financial institution branches have closed in the U.S. since 2017, particularly in nonwhite urban neighborhood, as well as in tiny towns such as Itta Bena, which has led to the term “financial desert.”

And while consumers have rushed to embrace digital technologies, Jesse Van Tol, CEO of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, told NBC News, “The bank branch is to local economies what the debit card is to your wallet — a key point of contact to the financial system and the way a large part of the population accesses non-predatory financial services. Apps are great. Nobody denies that. But there are, believe it or not, some important things that can’t be accomplished on your cellphone.”

Itta Bena’s last bank branch closed in 2015, noted NBC News, and has a poverty rate of around 40%.

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