Financial Inclusion Means Everyone



By Brad Hanson, President, MetaBank

Instead of just penalizing banks when something goes wrong, maybe it’s time to provide incentives for banks trying to get it right.

Consider Anne, one of nearly 50 million people living below the poverty line. She lives paycheck-to-paycheck, struggling to pay her rent and provide for her most basic needs.

Anne was never taught about managing money and is unprepared to cope with any financial crisis that may arise. Without the right kind of financial tools and training, Anne lives in a risky cash economy, vulnerable to predatory practices making it difficult for her to succeed.

Banks have been asked to provide safe and sound financial services for people like Anne. However, rising regulatory costs, compliance risk and a multitude of critics leaves many banks fearful to accept the challenge.

Change takes time; sometimes a thick skin is required when it comes to the critics. But we must persevere to ensure everyone, including Anne, gets the opportunity to participate in the greatest economy in the world and to develop his or her own economic success.

In 2012, legendary Grammy-award winner Quincy Jones and civil rights icon Ambassador Andrew Young teamed with Operation HOPE founder John Bryant and launched an initiative to teach the language of money and entrepreneurship to 5 million kids by 2020. Powered by the Gallup-HOPE Index, the initiative has already reached more than a million young people.

Finding a foundation

“Financial literacy doesn’t seem cool to most kids. But as an entertainer, I had to know how to read a contract, budget and manage my finances. The HOPE courses helped me understand that I am a business, and that I needed to how to run one,” explains 19-year-old singer and actor Tommy Ward, whose manager is Quincy Jones. “I didn’t even know how to write a check, or read a bank statement before this.”

In an entertaining, multi-media world, the challenge of delivering financial literacy in a way that captivates young people could have proven difficult. This team knew that if they ask kids to sign up for finance classes, only a few names would be on the list. Instead, they ask kids if they want to build a business, develop an app, become a producer or sell their services, and the list fills quickly.  

Appealing to the students’ desire for engagement, the messages and courses are branded as Business in a Box Academies, where aspiring young entrepreneurs in underserved communities can receive financial literacy education, build their businesses and connect with positive business role models.

“You model what you see,” says John Bryant, “and if all you see in your neighborhood as symbols of success are rap stars, athletes and drug dealers, then why is anyone surprised that what these young people grow up wanting to be are rap stars, athletes and drug dealers? We are changing that context and providing business role models.”

New school

Joining an Academy requires aspiration and an idea. Jamal and Anthony’s flat brimmed hats, Leon and Zuri’s super deli, Muhammed’s mobile snacks, Angelica’s urban beanies, and Prynce’s King Kupcakes are a few of the program’s businesses.

Before starting, each young entrepreneur completes the Gallup-HOPE Index, which measures their attitudes and feelings about hope, dignity, entrepreneurship, financial literacy and well-being. The Academy then assigns business mentors to deliver students the knowledge and tools required to take control of their financial futures.

Business savvy

Once armed with financial literacy skills, the soon-to-be young business owners are ready for their immersion into an entrepreneurship. They develop business plans, identify target markets, develop strategies, price their products and services, build budgets and establish go-to-market campaigns.

After finalizing their plans and determining their capital requirements, the students pitch to local leaders, teachers and peers. Winners of each pitch competition are paired with a business role model who works with them for another ten weeks. When they complete the program, the young entrepreneurs receive a grant to launch their new business ventures.

At the HOPE Global Forum in Atlanta, GA this January, more than 1,500 industry, government and social leaders will explore the issues facing the global economy and young people are a key component of that narrative. Ten young global entrepreneurs will be selected to present their new businesses to an extraordinary panel of industry leaders. Their businesses will be evaluated, and the panel will have an opportunity to fund these young entrepreneurs’ aspirations and dreams.