Unbanked & Underserved- FinX w/ CFSI

FinX, which is brought to FinCon by the Center For Financial Services Innovation or otherwise known as CFSI, is an event that strives to open consumers eyes to issues that unbanked and underserved populations face when it comes to managing their money. CFSI is an organization that strives to help bring to light on areas where traditional banking, and the finance sector, are lacking. Which is relatively important to know when someone is writing, or teaching, about personal finance. When I realized I was able to finally participate this year, I quickly signed up and prepared to go all in.

I was excited, yet still hesitant, to be participating in FinX. Excitement filled me because it was something I had always wanted to do and my schedule finally allowed it. Hesitant because as a non-profit professional, I wasn’t sure what I would get out of it. I won’t say I know it all but as a non-profit professional, I do know quite a lot.

However, this event knocked me on my ass and reminded me of my humble beginnings. Money Smart Latina, who? I quickly remembered what it was like to be unbanked and underserved and it’s a place I don’t wish to ever be again. Unfortunately, it’s a reality for many who can’t break the cycle due to no fault of their own.

What’s Unbanked & Underserved Anyway?

Unbanked is just as it sounds- it means a person who doesn’t have access or chooses not to have a checking or savings account in their name. It sounds ludicrous in today’s online world but the reality is you can get away with not having a debit or credit card. I know first hand because when I was younger, I was unbanked. It sounds scary and stressful because it is. Not only do you have to look for alternatives to access your paycheck, but you also have to look for alternatives period. Without a checking account, you are locked out of traditional lines of credit, financing and many other financial products. Think about all the things you currently use your debit card for and now imagine not being able to secure one. How different, not to mention difficult, would your life be?

Underserved is a bit trickier. How does one who has access to financial institutions and products still struggle? Glad you asked! Millions of people who are underserved are denied access to prime financial products due to their non-prime lending status. Your income level, credit score, and credit report can all work against you.  So when it comes to asking for financial institutions to trust you, with any type of credit or loan? The odds are not in your favor. Banks are like a bad ex-boyfriend. Sometimes, they’ll never talk to you again. And the ones that will? They’ll try to swindle you out of every last penny and nickel.

Bottom line? If you belong to either of these, it’s going to be expensive for you to access your cash.

The Rules

After the presentation given by the CFSI team, we were then split into teams to do the group activity out in the field. Our task? Complete a list of errands using tools that people frequent when they don’t have regular access to a checking account or other financial services. Seemed easy enough, right? It was until they let us know the following two things:

  1. You must complete all of your tasks and get back to camp, all within two hours.
  2. Our team must also stay together through all of it.

I’m competitive and a school teacher by nature so I grabbed the packed to read to my team. I swear, they had some patience for my teacher’s voice. Justine from Debt Free Millennials and Chris from Popcorn Finance, I owe you a drink for being the absolute best.

The Competition Heats Up

After we jumped in an Uber, we began to strategize what companies we would try our luck at first. We had two checks to cash (a payroll and a personal) with both funds tied up in Chase accounts so we thought it would be our best bet to start there first. We ran into a few of our opponents from another team, and they expressed extreme frustration before we had even started our transactions.

Trying to stay focused, we worked as fast as possible to accomplish what we could. Justine was able to cash her check for free (it was a personal check for $15) while Chris had to pay a fee on his payroll check ($8 fee). Both checks were being cashed against Chase accounts but we couldn’t get the fee waived. While they were cashing checks, I asked how hard would it be to get a checking or savings account using an  Individual Taxpayer Identification Number and not a social.

The answer? Pretty hard. Chase, and the few other banks plus a credit union we spoke with refused unless we had a social. The same went for getting a loan at ACE financial. They wanted a valid checking account and a social security number from you. Well, this was promising. If we didn’t have a social for any of this, we were screwed. Despite being able to work in the U.S and pay taxes. (Note, this is not all financial institutions, just the ones we spoke with)

Speaking of fees, it seemed that’s all we did. Get hit with excess fees. If we so much looked at something it was a fee. Almost $30 of our $85 we originally started with was ate up by fees. We ended up almost paying 30% of our own money to access it. All because we lacked a checking account.

Revelations

By the time FinX was over, and my team sadly did not win (But I’m pretty sure we were second place!), I was exhausted and angry. I already knew I was going to be angry but I didn’t realize how damn exhausted I would be from this activity. I was so exhausted that while running back to the meeting room, my legs gave out. Thankfully, I didn’t fall. But best believe I was sucking down my puffer while going over our numbers.

My two biggest takeaways were:

  • It’s expensive being poor.
  • It’s exhausting.

How the hell can people legally charge people so much to access their own money? Not only do they charge outrageous fees because they can, they also target people to spend even more! Do you think people in good financial shape would be cashing their paychecks at the grocery store? Probably not. But let’s throw lottery tickets all over the counter so they can spend money they don’t have in hopes they’ll win big.

Also, I’m sure people who live in poverty don’t have health conditions because they are in said poverty. I’m pretty sure it’s stress related. Because having to run all these errands in a time frame right when you get paid before the money runs out? Trying to find the place that will charge you the least amount to access your own damn money or pay a bill? It’s exhausting. I almost got hit by a truck by not paying attention. You know why I wasn’t paying attention? I HAD TO FIGURE OUT HOW WESTERN UNION WORKED.

The Reality

The sad reality of this whole afternoon reminded me why I started Money Smart Latina in the first place. I remember dozens of young Latinas who looked just like me who couldn’t understand how I bought food without food stamps. They weren’t trying to game the system or brag about welfare, like so many people claim those who receive assistance do. They honestly just thought it was the currency to buy food. It was all they had ever known in their neighborhood.

The truth is, if this is all you know, this is all you know. If you don’t know how a checking account or any financial service works, you aren’t going to know unless someone sits you down and explains it to you. What if all of your life your parents told you not to trust banks? What if no one ever spoke to you about loans or credit, because they paid for everything in cash? Is it a big surprise that a lot of people lose access to traditional banking services or screw their credit up before they even have a chance?

This is peoples everyday. I was reminded of that  while I sat at a Western Union portal and overheard another woman crying. Here I am, first world problem-ing it up, not being able to type on a screen. Here she is, telling customer service she lost her entire paycheck to wire fraud. She sent her paycheck as a deposit for a loan and everything was gone. She was sobbing and asking how she was going to pay her rent.

My heart broke. This was her reality. She’s doing the best she can given her circumstances. How dare I or someone else tell her to pull herself up by her bootstraps if she’s literally just trying to survive?

A Call To Latina Action

As I walked away from FinX, and the FinCon conference in general, I realized something about myself. I’ve been doing it all wrong. I’ve been doing wrong to the people I wanted to help the most. You. Me. The next generation of Latinas, who look just like us.

I got so caught up in writing about saving money, and living frugally, I forgot something I realized at dinner one night at FinCon.

 “I can’t save what I don’t earn.”

It’s true and it hurts. As a Latina. I statistically earn 53 cents to every dollar a White, Non-Hispanic male makes. According to Labor Council for Latino American Advancement, we suffer the most from the gender pay gap. Can you believed it? Our vibrant, full of life souls aren’t earning what we should still, in 2018. Our mamis did not save and scrimp for us to be here. And neither did we.

My new mission with Money Smart Latina going forward will be to help the Latinas be “money smart.”How? By acquiring wealth ASAP. Along with earning more, I’m going to start talking about investing & helping you make smarter choices for the future while still living life like the chingona you are. I truly believe in order to be financially healthy, we can’t forget about our emotional, mental and physical well begin as well. We are such passionate people, our souls radiate with passion and touch everything we do. We must be healthy in all areas so we can kick ass.

As Cardi B says, “I be in and out them banks so much, I know they’re tired of me.” Let’s get it Latinas.

FinCon 18- My Best Yet!

This past week, I went and hung out with a bunch of money nerds. Two thousand of them, to be exact.

FinCon, created by Phillip Taylor, is a conference that started as a way for the personal finance media (mainly bloggers and independent outlets) to get together and converse. It’s hard being a money nerd online, imagine how much harder it is in person! The conference has substantially grown over the years and is now the place where media and finance meet. Not only are big names now keynotes (Chris Hogan & Rachel Cruze this year alone) but major financial players are now sponsors and exhibitors in the expo hall. To quote one of my fellow personal finance nerds Eric Rosenberg, “It’s kind of a big deal.”

Now, a lot of people argue whether they should, or shouldn’t, go to FinCon. I’ve gone every year since 2012, only missing the very first one. It wasn’t financially feasible for me to do so but I go, if only for a few days. I’ve gone when I wasn’t that serious about blogging and I’ve gone when I’ve felt really motivated, like this year. I’m going to happily share my recap along with points why I think you should go, even if it’s only a hobby for you at this time.

The Relationships

Seeing how it’s my 7th FinCon, it would be obvious that I know some people at this conference. But, some of these people I’ve met at this conference are now some of my good friends.  I even met my BF at FinCon.

I hate the saying you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. However, I do agree with the saying that birds of a feather flock together and like attracts like. Some of my friends from this conference aren’t only my colleagues and partners on certain projects but they are successful on their own terms. I learn from them and I’m inspired by them daily. They are good people who I hang out with outside of the conference. That’s amazing.

It’s important to have people understand you in all stages and areas of your life. The really important part of that is to recognize they won’t always be the same people. Just like some of my friends can’t understand what it’s like to be a teacher, some aren’t going to be able to understand how excited I get over learning SEO. Some aren’t going to understand why after my day job I go home and run my business for an additional three hours. And that’s okay. Because I have a support group of others who will pick up where someone else leaves off.

The Professional Opportunity

I go back and forth on what I want to do professionally, like so many others in their thirties. I love that I got my degree in criminal justice and criminology. I love my career in the non-profit sector. But like so many others in my age bracket, I have champagne tastes on a beer budget. And I wish my career alone covered everything I want to do during my time here on Earth. I also suffer from several autoimmune disorders so let me tell you, it’s expensive being sick.

So, I’m happy FinCon allows me the chance to combine my passion for helping others with a passion I learn about daily, personal finance. I’ve found like-minded people to collaborate with. I’ve found brands to work with who actually want to help the consumer and not take advantage of them. And I’ve also found clients who help me achieve the goals I’ve set for myself and help cover some of my living expenses when I’ve needed it.

One of the greatest things about FinCon is knowing that I have the possibility to make a living online if the day comes where I can’t physically go into the office every day. And that’s freeing.

The Growth

When I attended my first FinCon, my intention was to just meet my online friends in real life.  And sure, sometimes I’m more focused than others but the majority of my time has been sightseeing and catching up with friends. This past FinCon, it was about making money. What changed?

I can’t save what I don’t earn. 

And quite frankly, I’m tired of being broke. According to the National Partnership For Women and Families, Latinas make 54 cents for every dollar a White Non-Hispanic male makes. This isn’t okay, on so many levels that as a Money Smart Latina I don’t even have to get into. But my real takeaway, and what I want you to remember, is this:

“You can’t save what you don’t earn.”

It’s mathematically impossible and one of my biggest gripes that I can’t even get into right now but definitely will soon enough. But no matter how many times I pack a lunch, I can’t save it if I’m not earning it. And I took advantage of earning it this year, at FinCon. I met with as many brands as I possibly could. If someone offered to make a connection or introduction, I took them up on it. I talked to almost every table at the expo this year and walked away with a few client offers.

I set the intention to have a positive attitude and make money. And sometimes it is right, your attitude will determine your direction. It certainly did for me in this case. Now I have a new perspective on what I hope to accomplish for myself, for my brand and how I want to serve you, the readers.  And I have FinCon to thank for that.

The Community

I already raved about the relationships I’ve been blessed with because of FinCon. But right now, I’m going to take the opportunity to rave about something else directly related to this- the community.

The majority of people in the personal finance community are so giving. I say the majority because you know, not everyone is perfect and it’s not everyone’s passion or job. And quite frankly, that’s okay. It’s not everyone’s job to serve or help you. But in my personal experience, I find that the more giving and helpful I am, the more my cup seems to be filled. And I love that I can connect with so many others at this level at this conference.

Along with a community service project sponsored by NEFE, there is also philanthropy at every corner. This year, I had the opportunity to meet with the Center For The New Middle Class. What amazed me more was when I stopped by their booth to play trivia. Not only was an Amazon GC up for grabs but so was the chance to pick out someone’s loan to be paid in full on their behalf. I’m highly competitive (just ask my FinX team!), so I was happily surprised and proud when I won. But, I invited all of the other bloggers playing trivia to help me pick out who’s loan to forgive. It was a meaningful experience for me and aligned perfectly with my mission to help others.

Another way the community is supportive is through the Plutus Awards and the Plutus Foundation, both founded by Harlan Landes. With full disclosure, I do help with the Plutus Awards and I’m close to several members on the team. But in all honesty, I love when the community can come together and acknowledge people who work hard on their websites, brands and serving others. My heart was especially full when my friend Crystal over at Sophisticated Spender was given the Plutus Foundation Service Award. She owns a boutique called Sip and Sew Old Town and took it upon herself to make over 100 cloth bags full of supplies for victims of Hurricane Harvey and Maria. Talk about someone with a big heart!

And I can’t end this part of the community without talking about another project which is quickly becoming near and dear to my hear, the Elevate Financial Influencer Conference. I met the founder, Sandy Smith, years ago at FinCon and she’s not only become a mentor but also a friend. We were able to meet with more members of our mastermind and break bread while discussing what we want the next year to look like leading up to our conference and how we can strategize to best help the communities we serve. Definitely stay tuned for this Latinas!

To Experience Something New

The last reason I would highly suggest coming to Fincon is to experience something new. Attending this conference has helped me in more ways than one and all of it comes from trying something new!

Before FinCon, I had only been to two conferences for my career and had never attended a networking event. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing when introducing myself and was winging it for the most part. I have a hard time with change sometimes so when I find myself comfortable, I tend to stay. My level of comfort stunted me professionally but I had no idea because when something is all you ever know, it’s all you ever know.

By going to this conference, I was taken out of my professional bubble and given new opportunities that have advanced me professionally. I learned how to properly network with others and utilize it to my advantage. People actually refer to me as knowing everyone or “will know someone who…” and it amazes me that I’ve grown so much. I’ve mastered my pitch and while I love storytelling, I can get to the point if needed. I’m a better writer which has helped me academically and professionally. And I’ve traveled all over the U.S, all thanks to FinCon!

In Closing

This has definitely been my most successful FinCon to date! I had a blast, took time to relax when I needed it and networked my butt off. I hung out with friends old and new, and I also spent time with my BF for a few days afterward in a nearby city. This was definitely needed seeing how I had to hit the ground running when my plane touched down in Phoenix.

I definitely have a lot more to share about a few of my experiences this year, which warrant their own individual posts. I’m also going to be pivoting my direction with my website and what resources and information I start providing here. Sure, I want people to save pennies but again, we can’t save what we don’t earn.  So, Mondays will be related to money (earning, investing, manifestos, some frugal living since I don’t like spending money I don’t have to) and then Thursdays will be related to life aka thriving (relationships, travel, life hacks, etc.). I feel good about this direction and about partnerships and products I’ll be sharing here.

Did you go to FinCon? If so, how was it for you? And if not, what’s stopping you?