FEAB 101 - Banking

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HARDY: Hello, and welcome to another edition of "FEAB 101," the IRS' ongoing series on financial education and asset building.

That's what "FEAB" stands for. As you know, this series is, we're going all across the country to talk to our partner organizations about what they're doing.

And today we're in beautiful Louisville, Kentucky, at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. I'm so excited.

Later on, we're going to go over and talk to a local financial institution about what they're doing around financial education and asset building.

So, let's go on over there and talk to those folks.

We're here with Jim Watkins. How are you, Jim?

WATKINS: I'm great, thank you.

HARDY: Thanks so much for taking a little bit of your time to talk to us.

You know, you're the vice president of senior compliance here, and as a financial institution, you are doing a lot with IRS as it relates to VITA.

Tell us about the sites that you're running.

WATKINS: Well, we currently have five sites across our markets.

Four of them, we actually directly manage, where we actually have bank employees that are directly involved with preparing the taxes and working the sites. We have a fifth site that we actually open up our bank location to an asset-building coalition and allow their folks to come in and actually prepare taxes, and we just provide the site space.

The majority of our locations are in rural communities. One thing you find with rural communities is that they often lack the services that large urban areas have.

HARDY: Right. Also being with a rural area, some of those areas are considered high-poverty, high-unemployment, so, obviously, there's a great need for helping people with financial services.

WATKINS: When we started with the VITA program, we realized that it's important for people to get their money quickly.

That's one thing I think lures a lot of people to get in refund-anticipation loans.

So we decided to allow people to open savings accounts. What they do is we actually reduced our $100 minimum opening deposit down to $1.

HARDY: That's fantastic.

WATKINS: So we let them open those accounts so they can have their money direct-deposited.

In addition, people that might be on check systems, which that's kind of a credit-reporting system that is for a deposit account -- folks that might be on that, that typically would not be able to get an account at another institution, we actually allow them to go on and open the account.

We've actually opened over 170 savings accounts for people to help get their refunds direct-deposited in. What we've found is about 60% to 70% of all the savings accounts we open usually stay open longer than when the tax refund gets deposited.

So, hopefully, we're helping to get those people to understand the importance of asset building and help get them back into mainstream banking.

HARDY: Tell me the benefit of perhaps educating people about these services and the need to save.

WATKINS: Well, one thing that we find in pretty much any area you go is that there's always a great need for financial-literacy education.

And a lot of times, people will get into trouble with how do you balance a checkbook and how do you write a check and how do you create a budget.

And so one thing that we've really taken a lot of pride in is the ability to essentially kind of have those people in a captive audience while we're doing their taxes.

And when we know what they're going to get as a refund, that usually gives us a opportunity to provide some counseling in terms of asking them, "Well, what are you gonna do with that refund?"

Basically, that's a way for us to leverage our financial expertise to help them out and better their situation.

HARDY: So, Jim, I understand you're working with some area schools on some education. Tell me a little bit about that.

WATKINS: Yes, one of the things that we do in all of our markets is, we partner with all the local schools, either elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools.

And we provide financial-literacy education.

So we actually work with those schools to go out, and we provide all types of education -- every thing from just how to open a bank account to all the different types of bank accounts out there, how to use your credit properly, how to get a loan -- anything that might be helpful to those folks, because one thing that we've learned is that the earlier you can instill the importance of that they're likely to be more successful later in life.

HARDY: A lot of folks sometimes are a little apprehensive about banks, just in general.

What advice would you provide?

WATKINS: Well, I think one of the things is that probably a lot of that fear comes from the fact that people may just not understand how a bank works or maybe how to use a financial product.

I think that if we alleviate some of those fears, the folks will actually end up opening bank accounts.

In many cases, having access to a bank account reduces the cost of services to get financial transactions done.

Whereas some people might have to go somewhere and pay $40, $50 to have a paycheck cashed, if you have a bank account, you have the ability to have that check direct-deposited into your account.

Or you can just bring it in to the account and have that check deposited for free or put right into your account or cashed with no charge to the consumer.

HARDY: How would an organization that doesn't really have an affiliation with a financial institutions -- How would they approach one and get some help?

WATKINS: You have a lot of folks out there that were probably going to take advantage of the VITA services that may not have traditional bank accounts.

For a financial institution, that's a fantastic opportunity to really tap into a whole another market of consumers that have a great need for financial services but may not really understand the importance of those financial services.

And this is an opportunity for a bank to actually get those folks in and help them establish themselves in a financial product in the right way.

HARDY: Well, that was a lot of fun. That was great.

We want to thank our friends at the financial institution for talking to us about financial education and banking.

For "FEAB 101," I'm your host, Mel Hardy, from beautiful Churchill Downs. Take care.