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Financial
Mar 1, 2022

Building Bridges In Financial Deserts

Sponsored Content provided by Sarah Stone - Director of Retail Experience, Excite Credit Union

Economic recessions, pandemics, and growing digital environments are forcing more physical banking locations to close, creating deserts in communities that desperately need financial representation. In Wilmington, we’ve seen our share of branch closures; or debranching.

The debranching effect started as far back as The Great Recession and was kicked into overdrive by COVID-19. Retail strategies for banks and credit unions were impacted by these events, closing locations in over-saturated or under-performing markets; a shift compounded by the demand for digital banking.

While this strategic shift makes business sense, it often negatively affects lower-income and minority communities disproportionately. Significant debranching in areas of need creates a phenomenon called banking deserts; areas with limited banking services (usually low-income city neighborhoods or poor rural areas), unreliable internet access, and/or lack of transportation to branches. As banking deserts appear, residents become more vulnerable to predatory lending alternatives and costly check-cashing services.
  
Serving the Underserved
Many financial institutions have recognized the growing need in our neighborhoods and have taken measures to serve underserved populations. As Director of Retail Experience for Excite Credit Union, I’ve had the pleasure to be a part of several strategic initiatives to reach those cut off from mainstream financial services in our Wilmington neighborhoods.

In 2021, Excite Credit Union earned the Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) certification. The CDFI designation allows us to apply for federal grant funding, increasing our ability to offer business and personal loans to low and moderate-income borrowers. As of today, over 60% of our loans are already directed toward low and moderate-income consumers. This specialized financial support empowers the underserved population to enter the financial mainstream.

This year, we’ve stepped up our philosophy of people helping people by launching our first mobile branch. The mobile branch was built to serve the Cape Fear region through community partnerships, such as Wilmington Housing Authority’s Jobs Plus program.

Through this program, we’re bringing banking services to Creekwood South and Houston Moore communities on a weekly basis, as well as providing financial wellness workshops to program participants. We’ve also partnered with Cape Fear Community College to meet students where they are, and we continue to explore partnerships in the community to provide financial literacy and bring banking where it’s needed.

Excite Credit Union’s purpose is to give everyone the chance to build a financially stronger future, so together, we can build a stronger community. We aim to bring banking to the underserved, provide financial wellness to our neighbors, and make banking inclusive (as it should be). It’s an initiative of putting words into action by visiting neighborhoods face-to-face, building bridges hand-in-hand, and creating relationships heart-to-heart.



Sarah Stone is the Director of Retail Experience for Excite Credit Union in North Carolina, overseeing retail branches, business development, and community relations. Sarah has worked in credit unions over the past decade. In late 2019, she moved to Wilmington and joined the Excite team. She is passionate about the work the Credit Union does in the community. Excite Credit Union was founded in 1952 with the purpose of giving everyone the chance to build a financially stronger future, so together, we can build a stronger community. Excite Credit Union is proud to serve the banking needs of New Hanover, Brunswick, and Pender counties.
 

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