Bank of America opening Community Financial Centers to better serve individual communities

Bank of America is updating its approach to banking in an effort to better serve low- and middle-income communities, starting with its new Community Financial Centers.

From design to personnel, the centers are tailored for individual communities with their own unique needs and resources. The second Phoenix-area location just opened in Mesa.

“Bank of America’s purpose is to help make financial lives better,” said Amber Espericueta, consumer banking market leader for Bank of America. “We recognize that how we go about this will differ based on what services our customers and communities tell us they need and want — and we are redesigning our local retail presence to reflect this.”

For its Community Financial Center model, Bank of America hires from local neighborhoods and provides additional specialized training for employees to help customers get the banking resources they need.

Community Financial Center locations offer free financial education and home-buying workshops in English and Spanish as well as meeting space for community partners. The centers have new furnishings, interactive monitors and free WiFi.

“In addition to hiring from the neighborhoods where our Community Financial Centers are located, these centers also prominently feature local art and cultural exhibits in the lobby,” Espericueta said. “Beyond the four walls of our branches, the bank invests $3 million in philanthropic capital annually back into Arizona communities to help with pressing basic needs like hunger relief, housing and job readiness.”

Bank of America has 9,000 employees who give back more than 100,000 volunteer hours to local charities and community projects in their spare time. This helps bank employees stay active in the community and hear about local neighborhood issues, Espericueta said.

“With one-third of our retail branches located in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods, customers express interest in getting help managing basic day-to-day finances, improving credit and building financial wellness,” she said. “Our new Community Financial Centers are located in economically challenged areas like Mesa and South Phoenix to focus on those basics with staff who are from or currently live in these neighborhoods, so they understand firsthand the needs.”

The ultimate goal of the centers is to set people and communities up for financial success by removing barriers to economic progress, which can be common in disadvantaged communities, Espericueta said.

“By putting the client and the community at the center of everything we do, Community Financial Center client satisfaction is at an all-time high,” she said. “The upgrades to these Community Financial Centers, along with the community room, classes and personalized service, are drawing rave reviews.”

The Aug. 16 grand re-opening of the Mesa Community Financial Center in particular had “quite an impact” on customers, who told Bank of America they appreciated the commitment and investment the bank was making in their neighborhood, Espericueta said.

“It’s been so rewarding to see the reaction from our customers who have been coming through the door to do their banking with us for years,” said Leticia Badillo, an employee at Bank of America’s Mesa branch for almost 15 years. “Small businesses and people in the area stuck with us through the light rail construction because of the close relationships we’ve established over time.”

Badillo said her entire team is bilingual and lives in the area, and each one of them has established trusting relationships with the bank’s customers.

“Now, with the additional training and resources we’ve received as part of the new Community Financial Center model, it’s even more heartening to welcome customers into the newly designed center and see the pride when stepping into the new, modern space,” she said.

Arizona customers have banked nearly $25 billion with Bank of America in 2019 alone, and that figure has gone up more than $1 billion per year for the past few years, according to Espericueta.

“As the state and national economies continue to grow stronger, we are proud that our Arizona customers trust more and more of their hard-earned money with us,” she said. “For the small business community, demand for credit and lending has also been growing to help them expand, get equipment, open new locations and hire more people.”

Bank of America currently has $538 million in loans to Arizona small businesses, up more than $30 million from two years ago, Espericueta said.

“In addition to providing capital to help the business community succeed, Bank of America itself has also been growing and hiring more than 600 roles across all lines of business here in Arizona — many bilingual roles and all with potential for lasting careers that pay well,” she said.

The Community Financial Centers are yet another way Bank of America is trying to connect with the communities in which it does business, helping people understand financial basics, work through language barriers and learn where to start with big life events like buying a car, starting a family or establishing a rainy day fund, Espericueta said.

“We can help with those things, and we are here to listen,” she said. “Every day, we ask clients, ‘What would you like the power to do?’”

Bank of America employees at the Mesa location said they believe the community room will be put to good use. Recently, 25 students, teachers and parents from Mesa High School used the space to participate in the bank’s financial education curriculum called Better Money Habits.

“We invited the students enrolled in the banking program class at Mesa High to attend a two-hour session that covered topics including budgeting, saving and establishing credit,” Badillo said. “They had a lot of really good questions, in English and Spanish, and we were able to help some of the students set up their accounts too.”

Bank of America said the Mesa location is supported by many long-time clients, including small businesses such as Bosa Donuts, Cazo de Oro and Morenos Mexican Food restaurants, as well as one personal banking customer who has been going to that location for 40 years.

Graham Bosch

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