D.C. and Digital Editor Micha Green spoke to JPMorgan Chase Executive Director of Community and Business Development Michele Lawrence on JPMorgan Chase’s deliberate work surrounding financial literacy in communities of color. (Screenshot)

By Carl Thomas
Special to the AFRO

If you’ve been following the AFRO’s April coverage of National Financial Literacy Month, you’re already aware that Financial Literacy is the ability to understand and effectively use various financial skills, including personal financial management, budgeting and investing. You are also likely aware that African Americans have been disproportionately miseducated (at best) on the principles of financial literacy. Once the Black community began to be faced with the uncertainty and strain of an ongoing global pandemic, that miseducation has emerged as a serious impediment to sustainability amongst our businesses and even our families.

As Financial Literacy Month came to a close, AFRO D.C. and Digital Content Editor Micha Green spoke with JPMorgan Chase Executive Director of Community and Business Development Michele Lawrence on AFRO Live.  Lawrence is responsible for creating meaningful opportunities for people within the community to receive the resources necessary to build sustainable businesses through market expansion into areas which traditionally haven’t been the focus of the finance industry. 

“I have the distinct honor of leading the efforts with our Community Managers throughout market expansion… into states we were not previously in, and in fact we will be the only bank to say we are in 48 states come the end of July,” Lawrence said proudly on AFRO Live

Prior to the pandemic and the heightened awareness around social justice and equity in the Black community, JPMorgan Chase was working hard to get community branches in financially underserved areas and finding ways to increase financial literacy and opportunities for potential bankers of color.

“What I would also say, that in 30 years, there’s been such intentionality in this organization,” Lawrence explained.  “It’s not a task force that we’re going to do this in these Brown and Black communities.  It’s not an initiative.  It’s a line of business. It’s done to be so deliberate around where we need it in Latinx, Asian and African American communities.  We paid money to understand, so much so, that we reconstructed and designed a new product called the secured account. We partnered with BankOn, there’s a Secured Account that mitigates overdraft so that there’s no overdraft fees.  It’s $4.95 and you still have all bank use.  So it’s not just how do we just listen, but also proactively then begin to have a product that suits the needs of the community.”

The community branches, which were intentionally placed in areas accessible by public transportation and for convenience are one one way JPMorgan Chase has found a way to serve communities of color.

“Right now, I have six Community Managers in six key cities such as Boston, Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia and D.C., and we are leading the efforts on how do we enter these communities, how do we lock arms? How do we hear the community, respond to the needs of the community? And more importantly, how do we bring them into the bank so that they feel like the bank is a part of the community?”

JPMorgan Chase offers virtual programming and resources and will be safely welcoming members into their branches and community centers.

“We have a community center, and inside this community center is a community room for the public. It’s a community room that can be used by small businesses, where we are not just going to remain virtual and have these conversations about financial health, but how do we bring them in so we can have face to face conversations. Have you ever heard of a community room inside of a bank?”

Lawrence emphasized that financial literacy is something we should prioritize beyond April.

“I need folks to understand that while April is designated as financial literacy month, your financials matter every day.  Just like you matter every day, managing your finances is every day.  While there’s an emphasis in the month of April, it’s a jump off point in the month of April, please today, start your financial journey.  Please today, look at where you are, and it’s 50 cents a day that you can begin putting away, put it away. Don’t be afraid of the numbers.  Don’t let the numbers intimidate you.  Do not let the excess bills intimidate you today, because it’s just today. It does not have to be your tomorrow,” Lawrence said passionately, before continuing to encourage the AFRO audience.  

“You’re bigger than the number on the paper.  You’re smarter and you’re brighter than the number on the paper.  Right it down, look at it, then go get it,” Lawrence said in closing.