By TED CARTER
Hope Federal Credit Union is extending its reach into the Mississippi Delta with full-service branch openings in Drew and Shaw.
The openings are the community development financial institution’s newest effort to reverse the state’s increase in “banking deserts,” a trend that has left 38.7 percent of Mississippi households unbanked or under-banked.
The branches will occupy buildings vacated by Regions Bank and donated to Hope, which has generated more than $2 billion in financing and related services for the unbanked and under-banked, entrepreneurs, homeowners, non-profits and others since 1994.
Regions Bank has become a partner of sorts in assisting Hope Credit Union’s mission, said Bill Bynum, Hope CEO, in an interview last week.
In addition to donating vacant branches offices in Drew and Shaw, the Birmingham-based regional bank donated its former location in Terry to Hope last year. “We are pleased to have been able to work with Regions to convert these branches that were under-utilized, Bynum said.
The new branches will increase Hope’s network of credit unions to 26 in Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee. They give Hope five locations in the Delta, including Greenvillle, Moorhead and Itta Bena.
“It gives Hope a much more extensive footprint” in a vastly underserved region, Bynum said, and added he expects a spring opening for the Drew and Shaw branches.
Hope will set up temporary locations in both towns at which residents can sign up for memberships and access account services, Bynum said.
While Hope members in the Delta and elsewhere include people of all income levels, typically about 40 percent of its members did not have bank accounts before joining Hope, according to Bynum.
Providing the financial services, which include checking, savings, car loans and mortgages helps lower reliance on predatory lenders such as payday lending stores, he said.
A recent study by the advocacy organization Corporation for Enterprise Development concluded that 69 percent of Mississippi zip codes fit the definition of “banking desert,” a designation given zip codes with either no banking locations or a single one. Of Mississippi’s 533 zip codes in 2012, 369 had one bank or fewer, the Corporation for Enterprise Development reported.