UMSL seminar to focus on fair access to financial services

The St. Louis metropolitan area has the greatest national racial disparity when it comes to banking needs, according to a recent report from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Among the findings, 7.7 percent of U.S. households are “unbanked,” which the FDIC defines as lacking both savings and checking accounts. In St. Louis, however, 31 percent of African American households were considered unbanked compared to 1.1 percent of white households.

In addition, 34 percent of African American households in St. Louis were “underbanked,” defined by the FDIC as having a bank account, but relying at least once annually on “alternative financial services” such as payday loans, rent-to-own agreements, non-bank check-cashing services, non-bank money orders or pawn shops. That’s well above the national average of 17.9 percent.

“Part of the problem is that banks tend to do business in areas that are predominantly white,” said Todd Swanstrom, the E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor of Community Collaboration and Public Policy Administration at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. “Another part of the equation is that many African Americans say they feel distrustful of banks, or that they feel overburdened by high service fees.”

Swanstrom will be one of five panelists leading a discussion Tuesday [March 8] during the seminar “Fair Access to Financial Services: What is the Problem and What Can We Do About It?” Other panelists will include Mira Tanna, Metro St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council; Elisabeth Risch, Metro St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council; Ed Wartts, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; and Eddie G. Davis, Center for Acceleration of African-American Business.

The seminar, part of a Community Partnership Project series at UMSL, will examine data from a recent Equal Housing Opportunity Council study that looked at the practices of top St. Louis mortgage lenders, as well as the changes that need to be made. The panelists will also look at how the Community Reinvestment Act is being used in St. Louis, and how neighborhoods can use CRA to ensure fair access to lending and financial services.

The Community Partnership Project Seminar Series, in cooperation with the University of Missouri Extension, links research and practice and promotes the sharing of information and ideas on issues that impact the St. Louis region.

“Fair Access to Financial Services: What is the Problem and What Can We Do About It?” will be from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in room 126 of the J.C. Penney Conference Center at UMSL, 1 University Blvd. in St. Louis County (63121). The event is free and open to the public.

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