William Bynum, CEO of the 28,000 member, $161 million Hope Federal Credit Union, believes the Jackson, Miss.-based credit union’s new mobile app is the first step in what he and the credit union foresee as an effort to make widespread banking and financial management solutions available to lower income people throughout the Mississippi Delta.
He also hopes the credit union’s approach will help provide an example to credit unions and other financial institutions about steps they can take to make financial services available to all U.S. resident regardless of income.
The credit union’s mobile banking app aimed at lower income members became available in late January.
The credit union, which people can join when they join its sponsor, the Hope Enterprise Corp., has members in Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and southwestern Tennessee.
“Many people don’t realize it, but Mississippi has largest percentage of wireless households in the nation,” Bynum said. “Lower income households are foregoing getting a wired telephone line and moving straight to wireless, and they don’t just have cellular phones, they have smartphones.”
Bynum said Hope FCU decided to move more in this direction after he and the credit union became aware of how many financial transactions are conducted overseas on mobile phones and how comparatively behind this trend the United States had fallen. He refrained from saying whether he thought that Hope FCU was the only financial institution in the country doing something similar, but he said he was sure the credit union was part of a very small group and that he believed Hope could provide an example to other credit unions and financial institutions.
He also explained that Hope saw the new app, which is available on both the Android and Apple operating systems, as the first step in what will be a comprehensive approach to decoupling financial services from brick and mortar branches that may be significantly distant from consumers who lack the means to get to them.
After the mobile app, Bynum said the credit union would roll out a financial management app that will enable members to better plan and track their money use. Then will come other online tools that will help nonmembers become members of the credit union and help members make loan applications.
“Essentially, with the apps, one of our debit cards and ATM access, we hope to make it possible for our lower income members to conduct a complete financial life without ever needing to come into a branch,” Bynum said.
One of the new app’s most significant features allows users to make deposits to their accounts by photographing checks and submitting them wirelessly. Bynum said this feature is particularly important in the Delta, where many of the region’s small businesses lack the means to pay employees through direct deposit and where many people supplement their income by taking additional work on weekends or in off hours.
Hope will need to overcome the obstacle of a relatively large number of potential users having to both learn about the apps as well how download and use them. To do this, Bynum said Hope was partnering with churches and mayors across the Delta to make their congregations and populations aware of the apps and how to obtain them.
“The pastors and mayors know about the impact the payday lenders and check cashers have had on their communities and how much of a change being able conduct financial transactions over the phones can make,” Bynum said.