Financial education, community engagement are key with VyStar
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer
A lot of statistics were doled out last fall at the Capital City Chamber of Commerce’s Advantage Conference. One of the most astonishing was the figure that showed 5.9 percent of Tallahassee’s residents are unbanked.
Miron Richardson heard all about it. As vice president of universal retail banking and manager of VyStar Credit Union’s newest branch, he wants to help reduce the number of unbanked individuals and families in Tallahassee.
VyStar, which has a growing footprint between Central and North Florida, held a grand opening for its second Tallahassee branch. It is located at the intersection of Weems Road and Mahan Drive.
It’s that location and the one on West Tennessee Street that VyStar first opened two years ago in Tallahassee where Richardson would like to see more of the city’s unbanked individuals. Educating folks about handling their finances and the best place to do business comes first, though.
“It’s a money thing,” is one way Richardson’s staff helps to educate people. The program allows customers to pace themselves in learning about finances, especially individuals who live in areas where finances are seldom an everyday conversation.
“That’s usually what our focus is on,” Richardson said, “tapping into the underserved and unbanked communities by providing them with these types of products and services to help them reach their financial goals.”
Prior to the ribbon cutting ceremony, the location staffers were introduced, as were board members. A lot was also said about the credit union’s involvement with the Leon County School Foundation and the Knight Creative Community Institute.
In all, VyStar has partnered with about 20 different nonprofit organizations since its arrival in Tallahassee, according to a fact sheet. Community engagement seemingly is part of a pattern that the credit union follows in areas where it has its 68 locations.
“We know that as we grow,” said Brian Wolfburg, VyStar’s CEO, “we can impact more people’s life and do more good in more communities.”
Another of the statistics that the Capital City Chamber handed out at its conference that Richardson knows about is that unbanked individuals spend about 10 percent of their income on fees that accrue from unconventional financial practices. That may include doing business with Payday Loan companies in many cases as those individuals tend to stay clear of banks and credit unions.
“A lot of it is based off of what they’ve experienced,” said Richardson, a Gadsden County native. “Look at the news and you see these larger organizations that have defrauded their customers in a way. When you look at the credit union, you typically don’t find that. We are so committed to tapping into our communities and we don’t pay stakeholders.”
Offering many services that customers can get without fees is another way Richardson hopes would make the public take a look at VyStar. But he knows that comes by being more intentional about engaging the community.
“It really boils down to us being all boots on the ground and really getting out there and making our presence known,” he said. “What we offer hopefully changes that stigma that they have surrounding financial institutions.”