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Creating more stakeholders: Q&A with John Hope Bryant

Jenny Flores
Posted by Jenny Flores
Corporate Social Responsibility

John Hope Bryant is an entrepreneur and businessman who founded and still leads Operation HOPE, the nation’s first nonprofit financial services network for the underserved. During the course of 23 years the organization has served more than 2 million people.

John Hope Bryant speaking at HOPE Forum. (Photo credit: Cliff Robinson).

(Credit: Cliff Robinson Photography)

Bank of the West has partnered with Operation HOPE for more than 10 years to advance financial education, workforce development, small businesses, and affordable housing. Beyond its support through philanthropic investments and volunteer service, the bank was the first financial services company in California to offer a HOPE Inside Resource Center co-located within a Bank of the West branch. On the occasion of opening our third such branch, in Aurora, Colorado, we were able to have a brief Q&A with Bryant.

His mission of “doing well by doing good” inspires me and countless staff members and volunteers, and I’m thrilled to see our partnership grow.

Q: You often advocate for “silver rights.” What does that mean? A: The most dangerous person in the world is a person with no hope.

Operation HOPE was founded in 1992 out of the despair and destruction of the Los Angeles Riots. It was my answer to the devastation that had engulfed the community. In large part, our mission was to help build financial equity where the justice system had fallen short. To teach individuals in under-resourced communities the “language of money.” To give people the tools and training needed to fund their aspirations. People don’t burn what they own, and the best way to stop a bullet from being fired in the first place is with a job.

“Civil rights” typically calls into focus a moment in history when people marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to end racial oppression, segregation, and discrimination. Under the banner of “silver rights” — rights to financial literacy, access to capital, and equity of opportunity for the underserved — Operation HOPE is building on the second part of Dr. King’s integration dream – the integration of the dollar.

Through our HOPE Inside locations in cities across the country, Operation HOPE is empowering clients to be self-sufficient by giving them the fundamentals to build their own businesses, raise their credit scores, buy homes, or simply make better decisions with the money they have. With partners like Bank of the West, Operation HOPE is delivering financial empowerment to communities that need it most.

What are a few basics of financial literacy that you would like all adults to understand?

Lack of financial literacy is a major cause of generational poverty. Understanding how to effectively handle money, credit, debt, and risk is crucial to economic survival and breaking the cycle of poverty.

While we teach the basics of a core finance curriculum—understanding credit and money management, the process of buying a home, or starting a business, we also acknowledge the larger social issues at play. Across America, particularly in inner-city and underserved communities, issues around money and the economy are intermixed with emotions, self-esteem, identity, and even core issues of human dignity.

At Operation HOPE, we believe that when we help raise a person’s credit score, and teach that person to take control of their future, we create a stakeholder. We give that person, and by extension, that community, financial dignity. Stakeholders value their communities; stakeholders take pride in ownership. A community empowered with financial dignity, collectively, asks better questions, demands better products and services, is more aspirational, and is better positioned. An empowered community is a community filled with economic opportunity.

Operation HOPE works with Bank of the West on two HOPE Inside branches in California, and a similar project will launch in May in Aurora, Colorado. How is the HOPE Inside initiative working?

To accelerate our mission to convert check cashing customers into banking customers, renters into homeowners, small business dreamers into small business owners, and minimum wage workers into living wage workers, we had to scale our programs. We want and need to be everywhere! With our HOPE Inside model, that goal is becoming a reality. HOPE Inside locations operate within existing bank branches, grocery stores, government offices, and other community locations, including upcoming openings in a hotel and in a city police department, respectively, as an employee wellness benefit.

On entering a HOPE Inside location, the client immediately gets plugged into financial empowerment. Every HOPE Inside holds consumer credit counseling certification, CFPB, FDIC, U.S. SBA, EITC and FEMA applications and partnerships, and most locations are HUD approved counseling offices. And the success is speaking for itself. In just one year – 2015 — nearly 10,000 clients received financial coaching at the Bank of the West locations in Oakland and Pico Rivera.

Best of all, by working closely with bank personnel and our clients, and focusing on raising credit scores to 700 through our HOPE 700 Credit Score Communities initiative, we are bridging the gap between being unqualified and being bankable. The HOPE Inside model positions itself as the “private banker to the less than affluent” — the working poor, the working class, and the struggling middle class. We work to get bankers out of the “no” business and into the “yes” business, by helping to rehabilitate the credit, financial, and overall well-being profile of the HOPE client and the future bank borrower. It’s a case of doing well by doing good.

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