The Texas economy may be booming, but this does not mean everyone is benefiting equally. Even as unemployment rates hit near-record lows, a recent study by the U.S. Census Bureau found that Texas was one of just eight states that saw the gap between the wealthy and the poor widen in 2018. To discuss ways to combat these changes, Amplify Credit Union recently came together with representatives from the public and non-profit sectors as part of the Financial Literacy Coalition of Central Texas’s “Financial Inclusion Week” in Austin, Texas.
On Thursday, October 24, Amplify Credit Union Chief Experience Officer Stacy Armijo participated in a roundtable discussion on how Austin can create a more financially inclusive community. Armijo was joined onstage by Representative Vikki Goodwin, Texas House 47; Dr. Kazique J. Prince, Senior Policy Advisor & Education Coordinator with the City of Austin; Ann Baddour, Director of the Fair Financial Services Project at Texas Appleseed; and Nora Linares-Moeller, Executive Director of HousingWorks Austin. Each panelist was given the opportunity to discuss the challenge of financial inclusivity from their industry’s perspective before moderator and Financial Literacy Coalition Executive Director Lourdes G. Zuniga opened things up for questions with the audience.
Over the following hour, the panelists engaged in a far-ranging conversation about financial inclusion and the importance of basic financial education for members of the Austin community. Representative Goodwin discussed her ongoing attempts to pass a bill that would require students to complete a personal financial literacy course as part of their core high school curriculum. Dr. Price spoke about the City of Austin’s fight against institutionalized discrimination and the challenge of unwinding decades of financial inequality. Many of the speakers discussed ongoing education efforts within the community and their efforts to inform the public about predatory loans and consumer-friendly lending programs.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway, however, was the importance of inclusive financial products for all communities across Austin. While each of the panelists agreed that financial education and literacy are important, they were also careful to point out that framing financial inclusion as solely a matter of personal responsibility does a disservice to the communities impacted. To create a financially inclusive community, non-profits, financial institutions, and community partners alike must create opportunities for people to exercise their newfound fiscal responsibility.
How can consumers ensure that their friends and neighbors have access to non-predatory loans? One possible solution is to align their social values with their financial values. “This is going to sound a little bit like a commercial for credit unions,” Amplify Credit Union’s Stacy Armijo said during her portion of the discussion. “One of the reasons I came to work for a credit union is because I feel the interests of our organization are aligned with the interests of our customers. We only succeed when our customers succeed.” Armijo compared this community-focused approach—an approach that drives the entire credit union industry—with the financial interests of larger institutions. “The purpose, the obligation, of a publicly-traded entity is to maximize shareholder value. That is what they are required to do from a fiduciary perspective.”
And for credit unions like Amplify, the community and stakeholders are one and the same. These institutions can provide products and services to ensure that people do not fall into the payday loan trap—the challenge from a credit union perspective is how to encourage people to interrupt their financial routine in favor of these community-focused organizations. By working in partnership with the City of Austin and alongside community-facing organizations like Texas Appleseed and HousingWorks, Armijo and her team hope to continue working towards a more financially inclusive community for all Central Texans.