It has been an interesting and bewildering month to work in the financial industry. ‘Greedy’ and ‘reckless’ are the most common adjectives placed before the words ‘banker’ or ‘financial institutions.’ Against this backdrop, going to the kick-off of the Bank on Seattle – King County initiative was almost surreal. The room was filled with bank and credit union executives, national and state regulators, city officials, including the mayor, and representatives from numerous community organizations. We weren’t there to discuss how the fall of Wall Street would affect Main Street, but rather how collectively we were going to help unbanked individuals gain a more secure and better financial life by getting a checking account.
My boss handed me a letter last January and said “you ought to go to this.” The City of San Francisco was presenting the results of their Bank on San Francisco project. In one year, more than 10,000 previously unbanked individuals had signed up for checking accounts. On average, an unbanked individual will spend $800 cashing checks in the course of the year. That’s $8 million that these largely low income families could spend on food, clothing and rent. At the end of the meeting, the City of Seattle said they were going to bring the Bank On program to Seattle. I responded “Sure, we’re interested. After all we’re a credit union.”
The meetings have been quite fascinating. Big banks, community banks, credit unions and community organizations with fervent social missions were crammed around a huge table. Friction was quite palpable, especially at the first meeting. But over time, respect and appreciation for each other grew. Community organizers received an education about compliance. I learned about how difficult it is for the big boys to make changes to their IT systems. The bankers saw how willing credit unions were, without the need to fulfill CRA requirements, to provide time and resources to do the right thing.
The stock market continues to gyrate, Congress in the face of elections is afraid to make a stand, and WaMU is gone, but the 22 participating financial institutions in Bank On Seattle-King County are still moving forward to ensure that everyone can have a checking account, believing it is the first step towards a stronger financial future.
It’s enough for me to close the Wall Street Journal and get back to work.
Having the opportunity every day to get closer to fulfilling our mission statement is what excites John Zmolek about his new role as CEO of Verity Credit Union. John began his association with Verity as a board member in 1986 before moving into a vice president position in 1990. He stepped up to the CEO position on January 1, 2014. In his role, he manages the operations of the credit union while working closely with the board of directors to set the course of the credit union. John received his BS in Economics from Iowa State University and his MS from University of California- Davis. He has served on several non-profit boards, including his current position on the Bright Water School Board. Whether kayaking, bicycling or hiking, he likes to be outdoors. When indoors, he loves cooking and entertaining.