Banks Are Ignoring Young People of Color

July 10th 2015

The Millennial generation is becoming surprisingly good with how they manage their money. Thanks to popular platforms like Mint and LearnVest financial planning resources are readily available to anyone with a computer or smartphone. Yet certain segments of the population continue to be left in the dark. What about the “unbanked” (those who do not have proximal access to banks and other financial services) or those with little financial assets to begin with? What if you face disparity in income, your opportunities for upward mobility are limited, or transfer of wealth like inheritance and 401Ks doesn’t include you? In today’s fickle American economy, making the right financial decisions can be daunting. Even worse, for some Millennial minorities how your family handled money while you were growing up can make or break your chances of financial stability as an adult. 

Financial institutions are missing the mark with the assumption that everyone has the money to diversify their portfolio or hire a financial advisor. These assumptions tend to leave people of color out of the financial market as institutions fail to provide financial literature that speaks to them in practical terms or meet their financial realities. According to a 2010 Yankelovich MONITOR Multicultural Study, the majority of Hispanics — 77% — agree with the statement, "I wish more financial institutions would offer products and services with Hispanics in mind."

With a lack of diversity in financial "gurus," it is easy for minorities to feel uninspired or defeated when trying to follow their tips. The racial wealth gap in today’s high-tech careers doesn’t help either. Hispanics earn $16,353 a year less on average than their colleagues who are not Hispanic, while Blacks make $3,656 less than whites, according to a report from the American Institute for Economic Research. If you are a Latina woman it’s even tougher: the national average is 56 cents to every dollar paid to a white man. That makes sticking to a budget, saving enough for retirement, and avoiding debt all while living in a major city that much more challenging. 

In analyzing the financial services industry which is traditionally compensated by charging a percentage of the assets customers have, minorities are an easy demographic to dismiss. Furthermore, traditional banking tends to do more damage than good for minorities. Banks "nickel and dime" customers with maintenance fees and minimum balance requirements, budgeting apps can only be used successfully if you have a steady income, and IRAs are inherently risky. Worse yet, if you are an undocumented worker (obtaining a passport, birth certificate, or license can be costly in itself), banks may not offer personal loans and/or home loan assistance. In some cases, asking for advice is a last resort as pride or intimidation can be obstacles. According to an iQuantifi survey this April, only 29 percent of young workers have looked to professionals for advice, suggesting that while Millennials have goals, they lack a comprehensive financial plan. 

Despite all these cultural issues, four female entrepreneurs are taking matters into their own hands. 

Nichelle Stephens is an African American small business expert, public speaker, and award-winning online strategist. In 2006 she created Keeping Nickels, a column on with practical advice for small business owners. Over the years, she found that freelancers and self-employed readers were looking for tools and tips to help them with not just business income, but personal finance as well. With a degree in accounting, she applied her bookkeeping experience and learned life-lessons to provide useful information on the site and ultimately help readers "keep their nickels.”

“We [minorities] are not used to money and want to splurge when we should save,” she comments. “I used my fluctuating freelance income as an excuse to splurge when a big check came and starve when income was low.” 

Nowadays, she follows a system of depositing a set amount of money into her savings with Ally Bank and Capital One 360. “Budgets are not sexy, but they cause less stress,” jokes Stephens. 

(Writer's Note: Level Money is really useful for budgeting and tracking since it gives you an estimate of spending money for the day, week and month.)

Ginger Dean of Girls Just Wanna Have Funds believes budgeting is broken. Dean goes on to say that traditional budgeting is not actionable for everyone, especially those lacking the proper financial education to be set up for success. The solution: start talking openly about money at home. 

“Our unique challenge is that we don't make money management, entrepreneurship and long-term financial planning a priority in our homes,” Dean claims. “This is where the behavior is modeled for our next generation. We need kids to learn from a young age what it means to make, spend and invest money wisely.”

(Writer's Note: Kiddie Coins Kids is a book series and soon-to-be mobile app educating children on the basics of money management skills.)
Her 8-year-old site has become a community for Black women to find happiness through conquering their financial fears. Dean has learned through her observations as a licensed psychotherapist that these fears are often less about budgeting or spending, and more about their relationship with the almighty dollar. As a result, emotions often lead financial decisions -- for better or for worse. 

“I started Girls Just Wanna Have Funds in my mid-twenties -- a decade later I've ‘grown up’ and so have my values around money,” she says. 

She now analyzes how spending cash impacts her long-term goals and if they line up with values she has committed to. For example, she uses PocketSmith primarily as an all-in-one suite that gives her the information she needs (like cash flow) along with long-term savings projections. She advises Black women to do the same by increasing their basic financial knowledge and changing their mindset about money; from a negative to a positive. 

Jennifer Velasquez echoes these best practices when advising low-income clients at Brooklyn Plans, a local financial planning organization aimed to empower Millennials to take control of their finances. As a first-generation Latina raised in New York City by Colombian parents, she never sat in a personal finance class let alone discussed money with her parents growing up. Her mistakes in managing money as a young adult motivated her to receive proper training and successfully run her own business.

"I have identified my values and when I make financial decisions ... I think about those values and ask myself, ‘Is this decision aligned with those values?’ Once I go through that process the answer is easier," Velasquez explains. 

Minorities are not alone in their financial struggles, however, those struggles are magnified because they are earning less and are less likely to get promoted. Common advice for minorities to get out of this hole is to simply make more money. Velasquez disagrees. 

“There is a feeling like you already need to have your finances in order before going to a planner, so the industry fails to meet us where we are,” she claims. “If we have unpredictable income or need to earn more the advice might be, ‘you need to make more money.’ Okay that’s great, but how do I do that?” 

Ramona Ortega at Mi Dinero, Mi Futuro is teaching Latina Millennials just that. Ortega is a Mexican-American law practitioner by trade who founded Mi Dinero out of a need to solve her own problem of balancing negative net worth while building a successful career. She decided to launch a platform that aggregates financial resources and breaks down the meaning of financial wealth as a more accessible means for young Latinas. 

, “Building wealth is a process -- and financial literacy is really about understanding the lingo and then understanding how all the products fit together to get you to financial security,” Ortega says.  

At Mi Dinero, Ortega and her team tackle popular topics like negotiating a higher salary, how to play in the stock market, and how to create an easy-to-follow budget through #AskMeMas online chats. As for daily money management, she recommends Digit and Robinhood, Digit is a fun and simple way to save while Robinhood helps people learn how to trade in a low-cost, low-risk way. 

So what can Millennial minorities do to improve their financial game plan? All four women agree: ask questions, get educated on digital banking versus traditional banking, and seek support. 

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