As you drive around town running errands — picking up a few must-haves for dinner at the grocery store, shuttling the kids to soccer practice, or dropping off a prescription at the pharmacy — you likely drive past a community bank or credit union in your neighborhood. In fact, you might pass several without even noticing.
Small banks and credit unions have been in your neighborhood for as long as you've lived in your home (and in many cases decades and decades longer), and you know they will be there when you need them. When you want to borrow money, you know that a financial institution will be there to help you secure a loan. When you get paid, you can drive to your credit union to cash your check or deposit your money to keep it safe. And many local banks and credit unions make above-and-beyond personal service a cornerstone of their operation.
Even when you pull out your phone and transfer money from checking to savings to save a little extra this month for that upcoming vacation, the bank in your neighborhood with the drive-up ATM and friendly tellers may not cross your mind. But it’s still there.
Why? Your local bank branch offers a fixed location that provides financial services, but also serves as a constant point of convenience and familiarity in small towns and rural communities. In the suburbs or developing neighborhoods, a community banker works to create a strong local economy and be a source of financial support to the neighborhood.
But try thinking about your bank like it’s a grocery store. When you shop at a local farmer’s market, you’re supporting a business in your own community. Your money is re-invested into your community, not extracted from it. A major grocery chain redirects your money to its corporate center, and online grocery services are even further removed from your locale. The farm-to-table movement advocates for a more intimate connection to the people who grow and prepare your food. In a similar way, sustainable banking means paying more attention to the mom-and-pop bank you’ve driven by a thousand times, and considering the fact that trusting your money with them means putting that money to work for your local community.
What is the role of public banks in communities?
Every financial institution receives deposits and uses that capital to loan money to an individual, a business, or a commercial investment. This can lead to improvements in community development, affordable housing, and sometimes major corporate investments.
Since large banks serve a wide area of customers and businesses, deposits made into checking accounts at large banks are used to loan money at national banks towards national efforts. This includes lending money for speculative development and providing financial services to big businesses in other cities and states.
Now think about that local bank you passed on the way to the drug store. A credit union or a community bank often extends loans within a local region, supporting nearby underserved communities and boosting the local economy of small towns. This includes mortgage lending in your neighborhood and lending to small businesses as part of the overall community development. This creates a system of sustainable banking to serve the community.
What are the benefits of using a community bank?
Small banks and credit unions form the hub of the local economy, from the bank branch down the street to the soccer field where your kids practice. Of course, community banking provides the region with economic support and serves as the financial backbone of the community, but their involvement also extends to sponsoring your children's soccer tournaments and other neighborhood activities and local organizations.
In underserved communities, the local financial institution may be the only economic resource to sponsor local events. When a community bank or credit union contributes to a school fund-raising activity, this lifts up families throughout the area.
You already know that community financial institutions offer checking accounts, certificates of deposit, and other financial products. You may have even obtained financing for your home from a local bank. But credit unions and small banks partner with networks of other community financial institutions and member banks to enable you to take that vacation and still receive local financial services like ATM access.
How do community banks help you and your neighbors?
Local banks and credit unions provide obvious financial services to you and your neighbors. Lending funds to small businesses in your community is another vital service they offer to keep the local economy humming.
If you are ducking into the grocery store for a gallon of milk and fixings from the deli counter, you might bump into your neighbor. You may not realize that even the local grocery store might utilize the same local bank as you. The local farmer that provides the produce might have gotten a small business loan from them. Your pharmacist might also bank at your credit union for their financial needs. Every person and business in your community relies on a financial institution, and when choosing to support a local financial institution, you are supporting all your neighbors who also bank where you bank.
Think about that building you drive past again as you rush back home. In some rural areas, a full-service grocery store may be a longer commute. The local branch of the credit union or bank might be where posters are hung to announce an upcoming parade or the school's holiday choir performance. Community financial institutions are more than the building in town — they’re fountains of support in what could otherwise be banking deserts.
Banking local sustains your community, both economically and socially, just by its presence, and also through its interactions with your neighbors, local businesses, and community members like you. So next time you're out and about wrapping up your daily to-do list, consider the important role your local community bank or credit union plays in supporting your city or town, whether or not pulling through the drive-through at your local branch is one of today's errands.
Discover more about Sustainable Banking in our previous blog post, "How to support your local community’s small businesses, even if you’re short on cash."