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SunTrust and BB&T: Raising the bar on financial inclusion

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Positive and sustained upswings in the U.S. economy are driving changes in business climates and conditions for social good. The first half of 2019 heralded a new era in financial services and delivered supportive conditions for bank mergers.  First to bat – SunTrust and BB&T with a homerun predicted for the banks, their shareholders and the communities they support.

My Italian mother always cautioned me to do the right thing, even when nobody was watching.  SunTrust and BB&T must also have Italian mothers because that is just what they do – the right thing even when the press is absent, the cameras are off, and people are simply in need.

Over the next few months, much will be made about the merger. There may be calls for public engagement, a renewed focus on CRA, and a scrutinizing of these institutions to assess their lending and investing practices.  These are important activities, but their actions speak much louder than anyone’s words.

As individual financial institutions, both of these banks committed to investments in financial literacy and social good. Both have been strong and consistent supporters of Operation HOPE initiatives in underserved communities, and both of these banks understand and embrace the needs of unbanked, under-banked, and invisible individuals and communities.

At the core of Operation HOPE programming is financial literacy and empowerment delivered by the HOPE Inside model, which provides financial coaching, counseling, and education through a certified financial coach. SunTrust and BB&T embraced the HOPE Inside model and provided financial support, volunteer hours, and space within their branch and community footprints for the delivery of services.

Outside of their branch network, and beyond what is required by CRA, these banks also uplift those in need. SunTrust and BB&T commit additional financial support to Operation HOPE to assist underserved individuals and communities that are not in their branch geographies. These banks and their leaders are purpose driven and committed to helping people no matter where they are located.  

SunTrust Bank has supported Operation HOPE since 2007 with the launch of a youth financial literacy program called Banking on our Future for underserved youth in Atlanta. Recognizing that poverty and financial inclusion are generational issues, SunTrust committed to help open the first HOPE Inside location for adults at Ebenezer Community Center in Atlanta. This center was launched to provide credit and money management skills, homeownership education, and small business development to an underserved Atlanta community.

Since then SunTrust opened eighteen HOPE Inside locations that support more than 176 communities and nearly 30,000 individuals in the economically challenged neighborhoods of Atlanta, Georgia; Florence, Alabama; Dundalk, Maryland; Washington D.C.; Hialeah, Kissimmee, Orlando, Tampa, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee; Raleigh, North Carolina. SunTrust Banks will launch another 4 locations in 2019, with an ultimate goal to provide education and programs to 200 underserved communities.  Recognizing an unfilled need, SunTrust also funded a HOPE Inside for teachers, bus drivers, maintenance workers, and administrators in Atlanta Public Schools, and a HOPE Inside dedicated to Atlanta Police Department. These HOPE coaches work in the schools and precincts delivering financial tools to unsung community heroes.

BB&T supported Operation HOPE since 2010 recognizing the need for financial literacy for urban underserved youth.  The bankers volunteered and joined forces with Operation HOPE youth program managers to deliver education and mentorship to youth. Since the initial launch, they expanded the youth programming in additional BB&T markets.  With a purposeful commitment to generational change in the most vulnerable communities, BB&T and HOPE launched HOPE Inside locations for adults in Houston, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; Columbia, South Carolina; and Baltimore, Maryland.

BB&T also recognized that natural disasters often disproportionately impact low-income communities making economic recovery much more difficult. To combat that inequity and facilitate recovery BB&T launched additional HOPE Inside locations in response to natural disasters in Columbia, South Carolina and Houston, Texas. When floodwaters ravaged these communities, the bank was there with HOPE and has remained in the communities with financial assistance and support long after the water receded and the TV cameras focused on the next sensation.

The impact numbers speak for themselves. The financial and volunteer support from SunTrust and BB&T allowed Operation HOPE to expand its national footprint, growing the operation by more than 500% in the last 3 years and uplifting both rural and urban communities. A focus on financial dignity necessitates a focus on credit score.  The average credit scores in the communities supported by the Banks is sub-600. Through HOPE Inside the clients are improving credit scores by more than 43 points in 5.4 months facilitating access to improved interest rates and new products while dis-intermediating predatory lenders and alternative financial services.

While the impacts are compelling, the human stories behind the numbers are most telling.  When HOPE first met Heather Oliver, she shared that her legacy to her daughter and granddaughter was her Section 8 voucher.  She worked with a coach, improved her credit score, developed a budget, learned to save, and eventually bought a home. Her legacy and her daughter and granddaughter’s lives were changed forever. And Shirley Batchelor baked her cornbread in her apartment complex to raise money to provide activities for young people after school. Shirley attended a HOPE Inside small business training program, and three years later she owns a small commercial strip center on the Westside of Atlanta and her cornbread – Grandma’s Cornbread – is sold at Whole Foods.

HOPE could not have achieved these results, and Shirley and Heather couldn’t achieve their dreams, without the continued support of BB&T and SunTrust and their Executive Teams.  We at Operation HOPE know that this merger can only result in greater social and economic good for our most vulnerable populations.

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