Grand Concourse bank seeks out ‘under-banked’ customers

Grand Concourse bank seeks out ‘under-banked’ customers
Melanie Stern, Spring Bank director of consumer lending, stands in front of the bank’s headquarters at 69 E. 167th Street and Gerard Avenue.
Photo courtesy of Spring Bank

Access to quality banking is for everyone at Spring Bank, a borough-based lender that provides services to traditionally under-banked communities.

The Grand Concourse area bank is only one of a handful willing to make small personal loans of $1,000 or $1,500, said Melanie Stern, its director of consumer lending.

It also offers traditional checking and savings accounts to people who may be paying large fees at check cashers or borrowing from out-of-state online payday lenders who sometimes charge well over 100 percent interest.

The bank operates at East 167th Street and Gerard Avenue and opened in 2007, becoming the first bank to headquarter in the borough in a quarter century, said Stern.

It is a for-profit financial institute that also performs check cashing, but with the ultimate goal of transitioning its customers toward more traditional banking, she said.

“The largest part of our lending is to small businesses right here in the Bronx,” said the consumer lending chief. “We have always been about offering…low or no-cost savings and checking.”

The community bank also provides an Employee Opportunity Loan Program for employees at non-profits like BronxWorks, she said.

Its signature program is Borrow and Save, which leaves the borrower with about 25% of a loan’s original amount placed into a traditional savings account as part of the terms of paying in full.

Borrowers can take out a loan for up to 60% of a month’s gross income.

“When you pay off the loan you can access the savings, but better than that, you might keep that in the account and build savings so you don’t have to repeat borrow,” said Stern.

Spring Bank has formed a partnership with financial self-assessment tool Happy Mango in developing an online lending platform that offers an alternative to the traditional three credit bureaus in determining a borrower’s ability to pay.

The new platform also helps potential customers track exactly how they spend money and manage their finances.

“There are folks who don’t make a lot of money, but who are really good stewards of the money they do make, so we feel that they will be a good bet,” said Stern about many of the bank’s loan customers, saying that oftentimes loans made are to cover unexpected events.

BronxWorks is one of the first two companies to join the Employee Opportunity Loan program, with the loan seekers’ job-related income verified by the employer and the installments deducted right out of their paychecks, according to the bank.

The lender approached BronxWorks and asked if they would be interested in participating, said Connie Claymon, BronxWorks chief financial officer.

“It gives (employees) the opportunity to deal with a bank they can trust if they need to get a personal loan of some sort, which is something we are not involved in, of course,” said Claymon, adding “Spring Bank has been a good partner and 23 people have signed up so far…it something that has been appreciated.”

Reach Reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 260–4597. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter @patrickfrocchio.

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