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Consumer Action hosts community financial inclusion trainings

Published: Friday, June 05, 2015

Consumer Action hosted two financial inclusion trainings using the Checking and Savings Accounts: A wise choice educational module developed with a grant from the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment.

The Checking and Savings Accounts: A wise choice educational module is designed to help unbanked and underbanked consumers learn how to use mainstream financial products and avoid high-cost or alternative financial services.

Consumer Action trainers Linda Williams and Nelson Santiago traveled the country to educate 37 staff and volunteers from community-based organizations in Los Angeles and 43 in Philadelphia on consumer protections and resources related to mainstream and alternative financial services. The training in Philadelphia was co-hosted by Clarifi, a consumer credit counseling service.

The trainers opened with a video on overdraft fees. In it, consumers were asked if they had ever overdrawn their bank account. Quite a few had. After the video, Williams had the participants at each of the individual tables introduce themselves, explain why they were attending the training and describe what they hoped to learn. Philadelphia participant Tiffany Spraggins-Payne excitedly proclaimed: “I am at a table where organic collaboration is already beginning to happen!”

After that, participants went on to the first session of the morning, which covered financial inclusion for underserved consumers. Williams and Santiago had participants break into groups and take a “How Much Do You Know?” quiz. The fun, competitive quiz broke the ice and gauged how much the participants already knew about the subject. The Consumer Action team gave financial education games and budget kits to the winning tables.

Santiago then led a discussion on the differences between mainstream and alternative financial products and services, during which he explored the advantages and disadvantages of large banks, small banks, community banks, online banks, credit unions and alternative financial services providers and products (e.g., check cashing centers, bill pay services, money orders, remittances and prepaid cards). He provided participants with a reference/resource sheet that included geographic-specific information—for example, links to a community bank locator tool, a high-interest checking account locator tool and a tool for comparing money order fees.

When he spoke about sending money overseas (international remittances), Santiago recommended several tools, including Consumer Action's recently updated How to Send Money Home brochure and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's remittance fact sheet.

During the discussion of alternative financial services, Santiago focused on transaction-based alternative products and services, including check-cashing services, money orders, bill payment services, remittances and prepaid cards.

Williams covered credit-based alternative products, such as payday loans, auto title loans and refund anticipation loans. She then led a segment on online banking, discussing the benefits and risks of online banking. Some of the benefits are speed, lower fees and accessibility. She also addressed the risks of using online banking and provided several tips to protect consumers: Create strong passwords, don’t use the same password for all accounts, never conduct online banking transactions on public Wi-Fi, and remember to log out completely after transactions.

Williams showed a mobile banking simulation video that explained how consumers are able to use smartphones to search for a bank and conduct various transactions. Williams stressed that this has become particularly relevant as millennials have moved away from in-person banking to online and mobile banking.

During the segment introducing the Checking and Savings Accounts: A wise choice module, Santiago discussed the benefits of having checking and saving accounts, how to open an account and how to manage accounts to keep fees down. He discussed the disadvantages of using alternative financial services, which can be time-consuming, risky and expensive. He discussed the advantages of bank accounts, including lower fees and earned interest.

Los Angeles participant Dwayne Boddie commented, "With Consumer Action leading the way, our communities will become more aware of their banking options."

There was a check-writing exercise and checkbook register activity that was enlarged to poster size so that participants could work in teams and compete for prizes. Santiago demonstrated an inexpensive way to take an activity from the lesson plan and make it more interactive.

Towards the end of the training, Williams directed the participants to visit the Consumer Action website for additional games and activities to use in workshops, and to download the How to Complain booklet, an invaluable tool for learning how to effectively file a consumer complaint and get results.

The activities also provided the trainers an opportunity to feature several additional Consumer Action publications, including: the Prepaid Cards educational module, an Employee’s Guide to Payroll Cards, the Digital Dollars educational module, and brochures from the MoneyWi$e series. Participants were given the opportunity to order multilingual materials and receive expedited shipping.

Participants expressed their gratitude to staff for the training content, free training materials, lunch, and travel stipends that helped to offset the costs associated with attending.

As Los Angeles participant Mikeyonna Dedmon remarked, “Consumer Action always provides well-organized, well-presented and informative information. I look forward to continuing to attend their workshops.”

Philadelphia participant Kevin Feaganes had this to say: “A wonderful event. Everything was done correctly.”

 
 
 
 

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