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As the first bank to headquarter in The Bronx in decades, we have one priority: our community. We are a mission-driven bank in New York City which means that we not only recognize how our financial system has extracted wealth from communities of color, but we are also doing something about it.

In addition to offering an affordable and user-friendly personal savings accountbusiness checking account, and personal checking account — we offer something priceless – the human touch. We infuse compassion and understanding into our products and services to ensure that any person — regardless of background, race, gender, or sexual identity — can access the financial system and the wealth-building opportunities it can provide. We believe it’s one step toward building a more inclusive and sustainable economy.

Becoming a B Corp was a crucial step in making that vision a reality. Both the B Corp certification and our community of values-aligned peers help us consider the impact of our decisions on workers, consumers, the community, and the environment. As a result, we are accountable for our mission — and how it plays out across our organizational culture and products.  That’s why we take the biennial B Impact Assessment so seriously and why we are so proud that B Lab has given us the 2021 Best For The World distinction in two of the five Impact Areas: Governance and Customers.

This recognition means that we rank among the top 5% of B Corps globally for our size in both categories. Receiving this honor means that we practice what we preach. We take great pride in being an honest, transparent, and responsible lender and bank.  Every decision we make centers on our mission and our community’s need. We will always hold ourselves to the highest standard; we are grateful to B Lab for highlighting that commitment. Again, it goes back to our pledge to put our community – and Customers – first.  Now, as our community embarks on the winding road to recovery, we will use our personalized approach to ensure our customers get access to the aid and opportunities they deserve.

Thank you, B Lab, for the Best For The World award — five years in a row! Visit our blog for more small business stories that illustrate how we put our customers first. Join one of the few banks in NYC humanizing money by opening a personal savings accountbusiness checking account, or personal checking account today.

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March 2021 marks one year of living in times of COVID-19, changing our city and our world as we knew it. It is also B Corp month—and our 5th B Corp anniversary! Certified B Corporations believe business can and should be a force for good.

As mission-driven businesses, B Corporations work to leverage their income to prioritize people and the planet, striving for a more inclusive economy that works for everyone. B Corps actively look to “benefit” the Earth and leave our communities better due to our presence. We’ve been values-aligned with the movement since we opened our doors.

“Being a B Corp aligns with our ideals and helps us to become the best version of ourselves as a company,” says Demetris Giannoulias, our CEO. “The B Corp model allows values of community, inclusion, and environmental integrity to infuse our culture strategically and explicitly.”

We joined the B Corp movement in 2016 as the first B Corp bank in New York City. Here are four reasons why being part of the B Corp movement is even more critical at this moment:

  1. Equal Access to Capital is more important than ever: COVID-19 has dramatically underscored New York City’s wealth gap. Our job is to provide residents and small business owners with direct and easy access to the banking system, and that this is a critical step in addressing the wealth gap. Bronx residents, for example, are the most unbanked and underbanked citizens in New York City. While many banks continue to leave the South Bronx, we remain committed to our neighbors’ financial inclusion. We aren’t going anywhere.
  2. A Culture of Innovation for Good: We continually adapt our innovative depository and affordable loan products to help individuals in our community avoid getting trapped in cycles of debt and predatory lending. But we also recognize that no community exists in a vacuum. Many B Corps, including Eileen Fisher, UnCommon Goods, Greyston Bakery, Crave Fishbar, and Pisticci Restaurant, have worked with us to develop our small-dollar, credit-building Employee Opportunity Loan to support their teams’ financial health.
  3. A Small Business & Nonprofit Priority: We prioritize the lending and banking needs of small businesses and nonprofits across New York City. When big banks turned them away, we welcomed them, deploying $88M in 361 loans as part of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). And we offer tailored products for community-based organizations like our maintenance-free Nonprofit Checking account.
  4. A Community of Accountability: One of the best parts of the last five years is the people we have met and worked with within the B Corp community. We learned about the importance of our carbon footprint and took the journey to becoming carbon neutral. We took part in the Inclusive Economy challenge and started our anti-racism journey. We are grateful to be part of a business network that calls one another forward into deeper impact.

This B Corp month, we celebrate five years in the movement, proud to be a triple bottom line bank. And we think there is a lot more room for other NYC banks to join!

“I believe in B Corps and think other banks should join the movement and become a B Corp,” says Demetris. “The more we work together, the better shot we have at changing the financial industry for the better from within.”

Thank you for being part of this journey with us. To learn more, check out our stories about our work with fellow B Corps Eileen Fisher Inc and UnCommon Goods. Find out more about our decision to go carbon neutral here. Celebrate B Corp Month and put your values into action by opening a personal checking account or personal savings account with us today.

A Recent Feature of Josefa Ruiz, our Branch Manager, in Independent Banker.

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We take great pride in being headquartered in a city built and powered by immigrants. Nearly 40 percent of New York City’s residents are foreign-born. Immigrants not only power our city’s economy, and they are the lifeblood of our city’s culture and dynamism. From the food we eat to the music we listen to, immigrant contributions are everywhere we look. And yet–despite their indelible imprint on our city– many immigrants have a hard time accessing the financial tools essential to building wealth and sustaining thriving committees.

Typically, when immigrants come to the United States, they are brand new to the American financial system, making it difficult for immigrants to open bank accounts, apply for loans, or rent apartments. These barriers often prevent immigrants from accessing the services they need to make this country home. As a bank with many immigrant neighbors and staff, we are doing our best to shift this narrative.

This month, Josefa Ruiz, our Branch Manager, was featured—alongside Carlos Herrera, a customer, and owner of 2300 Deli Corp–in an article by Independent Banker, “How Community Banks Serve Immigrants.”

“Community banks like us provide a lot of value to immigrant communities,” she says. “Unlike larger financial institutions, we take a chance on them. We see the value in them and their contributions, and we act on it.”

We are proud to offer services tailored to the needs of immigrant New Yorkers. We accept IDNYC– a free-government-issued photo I.D. card available to all New York City residents, regardless of their immigration status–to open a bank account or apply for a personal loan. We also offer a credit-builder loan that helps accountholders establish a U.S. credit history.

Not only are our products immigrant inclusive; our staff is too. Both our Bronx and Harlem branches serve many Spanish speakers. That’s why all of our frontline staff speaks Spanish, and our marketing materials appear in both Spanish and English. We do our best to make space for everyone. It’s the New York City way.

“At Spring Bank, clients are not numbers. Here, I can dedicate my time to addressing the needs of each client. I can support them. At big banks, you are expected to produce, produce, which often means that money rather than people become the priority. But not at Spring Bank. Our clients are our priority, no matter where they are from,” says Josefa.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit our immigrant communities hard. Many of our foreign-born neighbors work essential jobs, don’t qualify for government assistance, and are uninsured. The pandemic reminds us of immigrants’ importance and contributions, and we want to pay it forward. Read more from Josefa in the Independent Banker feature and look for a small business story soon featuring Carlos and 2300 Deli Corp.

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As a mission-driven, community-based bank, we prioritize our neighbors and the unique financial needs of the Bronx and Harlem and communities throughout New York. Since the day we opened our doors in the Bronx over thirteen years ago, we have been grateful for the partnership of many values-aligned organizations, including some of New York City’s oldest and most distinguished nonprofits. So when COVID-19 hit our city, we had the privilege of supporting many of our nonprofit partners when they needed it most.

We are here to offer the same personalized service to your organization. Our nonprofit program provides free checking accounts with customized services that will help you support your mission. With remote deposit capture, you can take advantage of our cost savings and benefits without leaving your home. You can also use our online banking service, which gives you the ability to manage money online for your organization with your mobile device or computer. You receive all of these easy-to-use banking tools for your organization without having to pay maintenance fees!

Our maintenance-free, nonprofit checking account option is a part of our broader mission to help nonprofits launch and grow. On top of offering nonprofits free checking accounts, we also have a specialized nonprofit lending program. And we love to showcase the great stories and impact of our nonprofit partners as we believe our collective impact is a crucial part of rebuilding an economy that includes all of us.

Open a nonprofit checking account online today or contact us at 718-879-5000 for more information. We also invite you to read about how our nonprofit services have helped local organizations like DreamYard and The Hope Program.

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A few weeks into 2021, and as President Joe Biden reminded us in his inaugural speech, we have hard work ahead of us. With businesses shuttered, hospitals overwhelmed, and streets empty, and as we confront this winter wave of COVID-19, hope can feel distant. And yet, there is much to look forward to and much to fight for.

As a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) dedicated to financial inclusion, we are ready to meet this moment. Together with the 80 + members of the NYS CDFI Coalition, we are working to ensure that people across New York state receive the financial relief and tools to navigate this difficult time. But beyond our work on the frontlines of the pandemic, there are many reasons to bank with CDFI like us. Here are three of those reasons:

  1. Access to Flexible Lending Terms & Affordable Rates
    At large-financial institutions, customers must provide high credit scores and a large minimum balance to qualify for services, effectively barring people with lower incomes, many of whom are people of color. At a CDFI, someone lacking a healthy credit score or thousands of dollars in savings can get access to the financial system without having to pay exorbitant fees. CDFIs offer financially healthy and credit-building alternatives to the people who need them most by providing flexibility and customized banking products according to our local communities’ needs.
  2. Direct Community Investment & Impact
    Unlike mainstream financial institutions that prioritize shareholders, CDFIs prioritize the economic needs of local neighborhoods. As mission-driven organizations (both for-profit and nonprofit), CDFIs leverage money to support community development like small business lending, small-dollar consumer lending, and affordable housing lending for people and organizations excluded by big banks because of factors like systemic racism and redlining. We have a triple-bottom-line, meaning that we measure success by the health of our community and environment. When you bank with us, you know your dollars are invested back into New York City.
  3. Relationships Matter Most
    Large financial institutions often overlook small businesses, startups, and nonprofits because they can’t offer products with a high-risk factor. CDFIs provide hands-on services that allow them to evaluate small businesses and nonprofits as a whole, starting with a relationship with the entrepreneurs and community leaders. Our holistic approach enables us to create customized products that address the specific needs of vital institutions in excluded communities and, in doing so, support their sustainability.

We are proud to be a CDFI and the first to headquarter in the Bronx. With or without a pandemic, we will continue to fight the racial and economic disparities it has magnified. By opening a personal savings account or business checking account with us, you help support our mission. To learn more about what we do, read our 2020 Reflection. You can also check our blogs about our involvement in the Bank for Good movement and our community-first culture. Apply for a personal loan today!

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For the last fourteen years, we have worked tirelessly to provide affordable financial products that enhance economic opportunity for all people in New York City. Soon after we became the first bank headquartered in The Bronx, we obtained federal certification as a Community Development Financial Institution or CDFI. This designation means that over 60 percent of CDFI lending services target people with lower incomes, including communities like ours in the Bronx.

In receiving this certification, we joined a network of over a thousand banks, credit unions, and nonprofits community lenders dedicated to assisting communities typically excluded—because of systemic racism and other reasons—to join the economic mainstream. Since the CDFI Fund and Department of Treasury awarded us the designation in 2012, we have joined forces with 80+ CDFIs in New York state to ensure that historically excluded residents, small businesses, and nonprofits receive the financial services they need. We were even one of the founding board members when the NYS CDFI Coalition became a nonprofit organization.

More than ever, the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the importance of the CDFI movement. When the Small Business Administration first implemented the Paycheck Protection Program in Spring 2020, the overwhelming amount of PPP Loans went to white-owned businesses and large corporations.

To assure more vulnerable minority-owned small businesses receive PPP lending, on May 28, 2020, the Treasury Department and SBA set aside $10B of emergency lending exclusively for CDFIs to distribute. The program was a resounding success. A subset of the CDFI network (303 CDFIs) made 106,113 PPP loans valued at $7.4B in less than three months. We are honored to have contributed to this effort. In 2020, our lending team secured PPP loans–valued at $86.8M–for small businesses and nonprofits in the New York City area. And we are excited to do it again. The new COVID-19 relief package includes $284B for additional lending to eligible businesses. It seems Congress learned its lesson 😊

To learn more about the impacts of our PPP loan program and CDFIs, check out our work with organizations like Ultranauts, Callen Lorde Community Center, Grant Street Settlement, and The Forward. Read a summary of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic here

Brought to you in collaboration with the team at Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners

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The time for gift-giving and safe, family celebrations is here. Often, the joy and the festivities that come with this time of year can also equate to non-budgeted expenses and high credit card statements later. However, this holiday season, perhaps more than ever before, is a time to focus on what matters most: your health, including your financial health. As you reimagine the holidays in many ways this year, we offer you five creative tips to help you carry on your traditions and stay within your budget. Together, we crafted these tips with our colleagues at Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners, a national nonprofit and worker financial health leader.

1. Cover Your Essentials: We all want to make the holidays special but make sure first you cover your basics, transportation, healthcare, rent, and food, before spending money on anything else.

2. Save As Much As You Can: If you have any money left over after covering your basics, determine a set amount you feel comfortable depositing into your emergency and personal savings every month. Then create your holiday budget and stick to it.

3. Gift Creatively:  You do not need a lot of money to celebrate the holidays in style. Some of the best gifts are inexpensive, yet thoughtful, and meaningful. You can suggest a “Secret Santa” with your family and set a price limit on the gifts. That way, you limit the number and cost of gifts each person buys.

4. Pay Your Monthly Minimums: By paying monthly credit card minimums, you can keep your credit line open and in good standing. You don’t have to pay all of your credit card debt if you are unable but plan each month so that you have the cash flow to pay the minimum. If you need to use credit cards to buy gifts, make sure you have the cash the next month to pay off the accrued balance. Remember, when it comes to gift-giving, it’s the thought that counts. Your friends and family will be delighted to receive a homemade gift knowing you are fiscally responsible.

5. Build Good Credit: Open doors for better rates when you think about buying a car, purchasing insurance, buy a home, and all your plans for the future

We want you to achieve your financial goals. We can help you build your personal savings and open a personal savings account. Stop by one of our branches in the Bronx or Harlem or give us a call at 718-879-5000. It’s our pleasure to support our clients and community during this challenging time. Read more about the great work of Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners and their free TrustPlus financial coaching services.

Photo Credit: The New York Times

With over 20,000 patients across the city, Callen-Lorde Community Health Center has provided outpatient health care to New York City’s LGBTQ and homeless community for over 50 years. So, when COVID-19 infections in New York City spiked in early March and the emergency rooms and hospital beds were overflowing, Charles King, the CEO of Housing Works, knew who to call. Wendy Stark, the Executive Director of Callen-Lorde, quickly took him up on his proposition to work together.

“We quickly pivoted to be part of the city’s front-line health care response. And under very dire circumstances, our staff turned a hotel into a field hospital to serve COVID patients. We’ve needed more staff than we thought because people were sicker than we expected,” says Wendy.

In a matter of hours, Housing Works and Callen-Lorde converted a 133-room hotel in Queens into a hospital, pharmacy, and testing center. In addition to managing their telemedicine program for current patients, the Callen-Lorde team worked day and night to support the influx. And they were running out of money. The volume of their services increased, but payment and government support did not.

When the SBA CARES Act funding became available, Wendy immediately applied for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) with a large financial institution; they were not successful. Three days before the SBA portal opened for the second round Wendy held an all-team meeting to announce that Callen-Lorde had no choice but to furlough 80 employees— that’s when one of their employees referred them to us.

“It’s been incredibly emotional. The Spring Bank team worked over the weekend to help us secure the PPP loan, and by Monday morning, I delivered happy news to the team that we did not have to furlough anyone right now,” says Wendy. “We had a staff call with the Spring Bank team to celebrate.”

The PPP loan provides Callen-Lorde with two months of funding and time to secure longer-term fiscal support as their team continues to work, day and night. The transformation of the health care system, one that is accessible for all New Yorkers, is also of the highest priority for Wendy.

“People have talked about this moment as an equalizer. It’s not. COVID-19 has impacted people of color, and people with less access to ongoing services most acutely,” says Wendy. “We need a centralized, single-payer, unified system that works to the benefit of our entire society. We need a total transformation.”

Callen-Lorde and Housing Works continue to operate the working hospital at the hotel in Queens. They plan to serve as many people as they can for as long as they can. Partnerships with other health centers, affordable housing providers, and community-based organizations have been crucial to their journey. We are humbled and grateful to be one of those partners.

“As a result of COVID-19, we are now connected with a financial institution oriented to serve people who are underbanked. Our overnight partnership with Spring Bank shows the beautiful way a community can organize during a crisis. It’s important that we raise our voices together,” says Wendy.

Raise your voice on behalf of Callen-Lorde by donating to their emergency fund. Read a feature piece about Callen-Lorde in the New York Times. Learn more about their COVID-19 services. Read about PPP Loan forgiveness on our website.

The property at 645 Barretto Street in the South Bronx was so far behind on taxes that its owners were facing foreclosure. A 48-unit building incorporated as a Housing Development Fund Corporation co-op (HDFC), the property had not been fully occupied for years. Its unpaid water bill alone was close to half a million dollars. And it had a history of maintenance issues that went back years — a boiler collapsed shortly after it was incorporated as a co-op in the early 1980s, says Ann Henderson, who has worked at UHAB, the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, since the late 1970s.

UHAB, a nonprofit that develops low-income co-op housing and assists existing co-ops, had tried to help the Barretto Street group resolve its tax arrears in 2002 and 2008, but they were having trouble filling the vacancies, so it was tough to secure loans, Henderson says. In 2014 the property was up for auction, but a city councilmember pulled it off the list at the last minute.

“And so we had to come up with a plan to resolve it or they would get foreclosed,” Henderson says.

As an HDFC co-op, the Barretto Street property’s owners are income-limited, earning up to 120 percent of area median income. HDFC co-ops also get reduced tax bills for adhering to income caps and certain rules about renting, subletting, and reselling units. New York’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development had money available for co-ops like theirs through its Green Housing Preservation Program. Quite a bit of money, in fact — $2.4 million from the housing department, according Juliet Pierre-Antoine, a department spokeswoman. And the grant came with a retroactive tax exemption through Article XI of the New York Private Housing Finance Law. That would get the co-op close, but not the whole way. Money from the housing department can’t be used to pay down water bills. So, working with UHAB, the co-op got two more loans, from Habitat for Humanity NYC and the Bronx-based Spring Bank, to cover the water debt.

“That’s what we try to do, is sort of combine this and that and come up with a plan,” Henderson says. “Our main goal is to make the maintenance [payments] affordable for the current residents.”

Henderson says there are around 1,200 HDFC co-ops in the city, many of which were turned over to residents by the city as landlords were abandoning properties during the 1970s. Many of them have been lost to foreclosure, she says. And many others have struggled to keep their properties maintained. Groups like UHAB have been a lifeline, offering technical assistance and help finding loans and grants to co-ops like 645 Barretto Street. This helps stabilize co-ops so that low- and moderate-income owners can stay in their homes.

“The reality is that the city sold these unrenovated buildings to the lowest-income people in the city of New York and said, ‘Bye, have a nice life,’” Henderson says.

Henderson says that most co-ops are stable, but there are around 150 HDFC co-ops that might need help. They might need a new boiler, or have to clean up after a fire, or they’ve had money stolen. But many are “allergic to loans,” Henderson says. In the case of the Barretto Street property, UHAB met with the board repeatedly to walk the shareholders through the finances of the deal it structured, which will require the board to pay back loans for years. The vote to approve the deal was unanimous, Henderson says.

“In most buildings, the shareholders have a deep, deep sense of ownership,” she says. “And it’s not based on ‘how much money I’ve invested’ and ‘how much I’m going to sell the apartment for.’ It’s, ‘I lived through the abandonment of the sixties and seventies.’”

Akbar Rizvi, the chief lending officer at Spring Bank, says the co-op’s situation was a “catch 22,” because it needed money from the city to complete the repairs that could keep it from foreclosure, but it couldn’t get the money because it couldn’t pay the water bill. And the size of the water bill would be a red flag in most cases.

“Most banks would hear that and go, ‘You know what? No thanks. This doesn’t make sense,’” Rizvi says.

But Spring Bank saw that the co-op had new management and was working with Habitat, and was “in it for the long haul,” he says.

“What helped us move forward was our commitment to being able to understand the full story and not jumping to conclusions — understanding what this HDFC had been through,” Rizvi says. The bank ultimately ended up loaning the co-op $265,000.

Chris Illum and Charlotte Bell, a vice president of housing services and loan officer, respectively, at Habitat NYC, both previously worked at UHAB, according to Ann Henderson. The group loaned the 645 Barretto Street co-op $250,000 through a housing preservation program that’s part of the Habitat NYC Community Fund. Given how many limited-equity co-ops there are in neighborhoods threatened with displacement, the group has focused on keeping those homeowners in place, offering technical assistance on construction projects, help with budgeting, and facilitating board elections.

The fund launched recently, and in its first year, it lent $640,000 across five buildings, according to Illum. The Community Fund is hoping that over the next three or four years it will lend around $4.5 million to help develop or preserve 1,500 buildings in New York, Illum says. For projects like Barretto Street, even relatively small loans can make a big difference.

“There was a previous effort to save the building, but all of that was contingent upon selling the units they had vacant during a time when no one wanted to live in the Bronx,” Bell says. “When we’re not able to help stabilize the type of housing that’s in these communities, they’re likely to be lost.”

This article is part of Backyard, a newsletter exploring scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more affordable and more environmentally sustainable. Subscribe to our thrice-weekly Backyard newsletter.

You may not have ever heard of Greyston Bakery, in Yonkers, New York, but if you are a fan of Ben & Jerry’s Brownie Batter Ice Cream, you know its brownies.

You may also be surprised to know that the workers who bake those brownies in 12-hour shifts, 24 hours a day, five and sometimes six days a week, all came through an open door hiring process — no questions asked, no drug test, no credit check. Not even an interview. Founded in 1982, the bakery was recently featured in the New York Times for its open hiring policy, which has given a second chance to many with a criminal record or other barriers to employment for more conventional businesses.

Anyone who needs a job can come to Greyston, put their name and contact info on a list, and when there’s an opening, they get a call to come in and begin paid training immediately as part of a six-month apprenticeship. As head of human resources for the bakery, Abigail Saunders made that first call to many of the current bakers at Greyston.

With nearly three decades of experience in HR, Saunders has been through a lot, but nothing like she has since joining Greyston in 2015. She’s helped employees experiencing homelessness find housing, and spends more time away from her desk — coaching and spending time with workers out on the bakery floor — than any other job she’s had before. Attendance is the biggest issue, often connected to trouble outside the workplace, often housing or healthcare. A few years ago she brought in a social worker to help her colleagues navigate such challenges.

The newest addition to Saunders’ HR toolset: emergency loans for employees. Through a partnership with a local bank, Greyston Bakery employees, including management, can access personal loans up to $2,500 with no credit check required. Repayments come directly off the employee’s paycheck. The program is open to employees who have been at Greyston for at least one year. About 30 of Saunders’ colleagues have used the program since Greyston formed the partnership in 2018.

“A lot of HR professionals don’t understand financial problems at home might affect performance,” Saunders says. “The process is very painless. For whatever they need, it’s great. One of the employees took a loan out to help out a family member.”

The loans come from nearby Spring Bank, the only bank based in the South Bronx. Since launching this program for employer-based loans in 2015, it’s made a thousand of these loans through more than twenty employers including nonprofit organizations, local businesses, and Jetro Restaurant Depot, a major wholesale supplier for bodegas with 3,000 employees throughout the New York City area. The average loan size is around $2,100.

Spring Bank’s employer-based loan program is just one example of a larger trend bubbling up across the country. Recognizing the scourge of predatory payday lenders and other alternative financial services providers weighing down on employees, companies are offering employer-based loans as an alternative. You don’t need a credit check. Just a job.

There’s platforms like TrueConnect, which has more than a thousand companies on its employer-based loan platform. The structure is similar: Employees take out a small loan from a bank (in TrueConnect’s case, it’s Twin Cities-based Sunrise Banks), and repayments come directly out of the employee’s regular paycheck. Billed as a competitor to payday lenders, which often charge as much as 300 or 400 percent annual interest, TrueConnect charges 24.9 percent — still higher than most credit cards, but more accessible to people who may not qualify for a card.

One critic told the Los Angeles Times that employer-based loan programs and other “financial wellness benefits sound pretty gimmicky and of dubious value to workers, and sound more like employers wanting to continue not offering wage increases to attract workers.”

Higher wages would certainly help workers at all levels, but they’re not a guarantee against the unforeseen. Some 60 percent of households experienced an unexpected financial shock in the previous 12 months, according to a study by Pew Charitable Trusts — and the median financial shock was $2,000.

While these numbers have gone down over the past five years, in a 2019 Federal Reserve survey 27 percent of Americans said they would have to borrow money or sell something to cover an unforeseen expense of just $400; another 12 percent they would not be able to cover it at all.

As a result, the market for alternative financial products — payday loans and other financial services provided outside the banking system such as check cashing — continues to grow year after year, to a projected $188 billion in 2018, according to the most recent Financially Underserved Market Study from the Center for Financial Services Innovation.

In New York, the usury cap is 16 percent — which is what Spring Bank charges on its employer-based loans. As a result of the state’s strong usury protections, Spring Bank isn’t facing the same competition from payday lenders as in other parts of the country. It’s possible to get a payday loan in New York state through an online provider, and it does happen, but it’s not nearly as prevalent as places where payday lenders operate out of storefronts, usually in low-income and predominantly black or Latinx communities.

When an employer signs up for the Spring Bank program, director of consumer lending Melanie Stern and loan officer Carol Guzman typically go out and make a presentation to the employees of the company. Often, by the time they get back to the office, employees of that company have already submitted applications. Guzman says over the past few months she’s consistently seen around 20 applications a week from all of Spring Bank’s participating employers. Approval can take up to seven days — still not quite as instant as many payday loan providers promise.

Stern designed the program to break the debt trap. When Spring Bank approves an employer-based loan, the loan amount goes into a savings account in the employee’s name. It can be withdrawn the same day, in-person — their main branch is located along two major subway lines in the South Bronx. The loan repayments are set up as a direct deposit from the employee’s regular paycheck into the savings account. Some employees choose to keep the direct deposits going even after repaying the loan, getting them started on a path to building savings.

On more than one occasion, Guzman says, employees have applied for a second loan, not realizing they had already paid off the first loan but kept paying into their savings account. She’s told these applicants they don’t need a second loan because they had already saved up more than the amount they requested.

“They come for another loan and they didn’t even know they had money there,” Guzman says. “One had $1,500, another had $1,800 in their savings account.”

So far, the median annual income for borrowers in Spring Bank’s employer loan program is $36,000. The bank also reports the on-time payments on each borrower’s credit history, resulting in a 50-point credit score bump after repaying an employer-based loan, according to Stern.

“Where we really see a nice impact is for people who didn’t have a prior credit history at all,” Stern says.

One obvious risk is that borrowers leave the company before repaying a loan. Spring Bank requests a back-up bank account to use for repayments in case that does happen, but it doesn’t require that. So far the losses have been less than Stern expected — at program launch in 2015, she forecasted ten percent of loans going bad, but so far it’s only been three percent, which is on par with other employer-based loan programs.

There are some key limitations. Specifically, people currently paying child support cannot access Spring bank’s employer-based loan program. Child-support payments take precedent over loan repayments, making those borrowers just too risky to access this program. Saunders, of Greyston Bakery, says that has definitely been an issue for some of her colleagues.

Technology has been a key piece of the puzzle — as well as an expense. Spring Bank partnered with tech startup Happy Mango Credit to build and operate an online platform that provides access to the employer-based loans as well as other Spring Bank financial products. The same platform also integrates tools for some household financial planning as well as setting up appointments for financial counseling.

Stern hopes to add another ten employers to Spring Bank’s employer-based loan program over the next year.

This article is part of The Bottom Line, a series exploring scalable solutions for problems related to affordability, inclusive economic growth and access to capital. Click here to subscribe to our Bottom Line newsletter. The Bottom Line is made possible with support from Citi Community Development.