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Community Bank Targets Underbanked New Yorkers

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TWC News: Community Bank Targets Underbanked New Yorkers
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A community bank grows in Harlem, serving a population ignored by some other banks in the neighborhood. NY1's Shazia Khan filed the following report.

Spring Bank is now open opened for business. Located on the corner of 111th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem, the financial institution targets underbanked New Yorkers.

"A lot of the banks have minimum balances that can't be met," says Omar Perez, assistant branch manager with Spring Bank. "For some people, $100 minimum balance is a lot, $500 is even more, But we don't have that here. We have no minimum balance. You can have $1. You can have $1 million. We're still going to treat you the same."

The Harlem branch is the second branch for the FDIC-insured Spring Bank. The first one launched five years ago in the South Bronx.

"You could still walk a half hour east or west from our Bronx branch and not find another bank, which is a really bad situation for people," says Brian Blake, vice president of marketing for Spring Bank.

A 2010 Department of Consumer Affairs survey found more than 825,000 New Yorkers without a bank or credit union account. It also showed 38 percent of residents living in Spring Bank's second location of West Harlem as underbanked.

"The banks here, we recognized, were not oriented towards the same customer base that we are," Blake says.

Since the Harlem location was once a check-cashing business, many of the customers walking through the doors come in to cash their checks. But Spring Bank wants them to walk out with a lot more.

"People will come in, cash their checks, take the money home," Perez says. "How can I budget if I have the money in my pocket? I don't know what I'm spending. A bank account is a helpful tool."

Spring Bank charges non-members $1 to cash checks up to $1,000 and offers options for free or low-cost checking and savings accounts, as well as business loans.

"We're lending in a range which is not common for the regional or the bigger banks, but it's also not a microloan," Blake says. "Our sweet spot is really between $100,000 and $1.5 million.

Spring Bank in Harlem is banking on the success of its sister location. The South Bronx branch is now turning a profit, with nearly 4,000 customers with checking and savings accounts and more than 200 business accounts.

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