Archive for February, 2013

Vision: Financial Services Assistance Centers

February 22, 2013

For many years of my banking career I served as the community resource person to whom United Way referred individuals having questions related to consumer lending and banking regulations. The people referred were typically having a problem with a consumer account and experiencing unsuccessful communications with the creditor. They wanted more than consumer information booklets distributed by the Banking Department, Federal Reserve, and Cooperative Extension; they wanted to know about credit systems and methods, purposes, practices, and processes. Sometimes they wanted “pre-legal” advice, and after hearing their stories I referred them to an attorney, or to the Attorney General. But because I was also on the Board of Directors of the local association of credit granters, I was often able to connect the inquirer with an executive having authority to resolve matters in ways not available to customer contact staff. 

Sometimes the caller was experiencing difficulty meeting obligations and requested a “credit counseling” session. This was also done for free. My employer, a mutual savings bank, was happy to enhance its image by hosting this outreach service. Legally I was representing the credit association, not the bank. Sessions were limited to providing money management advice, as opposed to budget counseling or discouraging credit use or intervening in any way. No report was made to any third party, such as a credit bureau, nor to the association. The meetings were 100% confidential and intended to serve the consumer—knowing that, of course, creditors would benefit from improvement of the person’s, or couple’s, financial condition. All sessions were tailored to the individuals. Often they mostly needed advice toward finding better employment, or ideas on ways to reduce expenses. There was no pre-cut counseling program of the sort one would find at a government or commercially-funded agency. 

With systematization and computerization of almost everything, and changes in corporate missions and policies, opportunities to provide such a useful and effective humanistic service rapidly disappeared during the early 1980s. Even the “thrift industry” became rife with greed and corruption and devoid of activities that did not generate fee income. Yet the consumer needs remained—increased, in fact, with the economic downturn that included the 1987 Stock Market crash—and were largely unaddressed. 

So, when I jumped from the burning plane that had been a solid community bank for more than 150 years, one of the visions I pursued was an “old gold” idea (see the June, 2012 post: “Old Gold”): establishment of a Financial Services Assistance Center (FSAC)—a self-funding “Financial Health Organization™”—designed to assist Mid-Hudson Valley consumers and micro-business owners optimize financial service relationships. The timing seemed perfect when, in 1993, United Way of Dutchess County published its “Priority Level 1” problems, one of which matched-up with the agency concept I had in mind for: “…case-tailored handling of financial challenges through a process focused on helping members of all segments of the community gain and maintain high levels of financial well-being…”—the first words of my proposal. 

Knowing that such an agency would directly address a problem that United Way itself had indentified—by helping empower people to overcome financial inadequacies—I was surprised when my proposal was totally rejected, but shocked when I was further informed that if I attempted to establish any such agency I would face insurmountable opposition. Undaunted, I met separately with leaders of religious and other human service-related sectors of the community but found myself under similar attack. I had contributed to or helped raise money for some of those organizations over many years, believing that they were focused on dutifully serving their constituents’ best interest. 

After two years of taking every opportunity to break political ice, the equivalent of six months of self-funded full-time work went into a storage box time-capsule. Now, seventeen years later, I opened the time capsule and decided to share the idea because I would like to see my “old gold” concept put into action in communities across the nation, and the need now is greater than ever. 

Based on my experience, this is a project best suited to a public-spirited person having substantial personal seed-capital to invest. If you are such a person, I would be happy to share with you the framework I drafted for an organization having potential to make a turning-point-difference by working to strengthen and unify the grassroots—the increasingly disempowered average citizens who have been milked like a vast herd of cows by parasitic powers-that-be through exploitive zero-sum games. Hopefully, those who have clung to delusional visions of a solution coming from the Federal Reserve System-controlled banking industry, or from Wall Street, or via the associated regulators, have had their eyes opened by the most recent crime-wave and economic meltdown. (See also our post: “Analysis: Ferguson’s ‘Inside Job’.”) 

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