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The Fierce Urgency of Now: Juneteenth 2020

The Fierce Urgency of Now: Juneteenth 2020

JUNE 19, 2020 | IN ECONOMIC EQUALITY | BY WOLE COAXUM

 

Texas weather in June can be dangerously hot. The warm, humid air that sometimes portends a hurricane brewing in the Gulf waters can leave one retreating for a spot cooled by central air conditioning or a big box fan off a screened porch. I can only imagine what it was like for enslaved Africans on June 19th, 1865, who had been working cotton harvests under the watchful eyes of overseers and plantation owners when Union soldiers arrived on this thin stretch of land bearing news of their freedom. I’m sure that it was difficult for them to conceive of how they had been free for two-and-one-half years because their only time markers were Christmas, Sundays, and harvest seasons. Yet, here were liberators, newly arrived and carrying news that was only spoken of in whispers and quiet prayers. This was the genesis of what is now celebrated as Juneteenth, an annual ‘jubilation,’ recalling that time when Major General Gordon Granger read aloud General Order No. 3, proclaiming the freedom of all slaves in the Lone Star state.  

 

This year’s Juneteenth celebration bears great significance for American descendants of slavery.  155 years later, our humanity and equality are still being challenged. As a result of the loss of Black lives at the hands of those who have been sworn to protect and serve, the world has witnessed unprecedented outcries and uprisings. The community activism that began in Minneapolis, Minnesota — the site of the death of George Floyd — has touched every state in the union and made its way across four continents. From Bristol, England — where the statue of a slave trader was toppled, to the US Congress which voted to rename military bases named after confederate leaders — the world is experiencing a great reckoning in the year whose numbers represent perfect vision. 

 

But what happens once the protests are over and the diverse community of activists has returned to their homes? How will this broad coalition use this opportunity to propel the black agenda forward in areas beyond social and criminal justice interests?  

 

Interestingly, after Major General Granger read the Order, the reaction of the newly freed residents was mixed.  Some former slaves stayed with their masters and continued working as if nothing had changed, some left immediately to find kidnapped loved ones, and others remained in Texas and sought the benefits that their new status bestowed upon them. 

 

Today, more than seven score and fifteen years after this moment of jubilation, economic slavery persists for African Americans. 

 

We still labor under an economic regime that undervalues African Americans’ contributions to society despite our buying power that rivals the GDP of some nations. Consider these essential facts: Black people spend 50% more on banking services than their white counterparts;  Black people experience a $158bn gap in real estate value compared to their white counterparts; Black Americans can expect to earn up to $1 million less than white Americans over their lifetimes; and, by 2030 the average Black family will have zero net worth.  This is not what our ancestors imagined or fought for as they made their way in the post Emancipation world.  It is not the world MoCaFi wants for our community.

 

This Juneteenth, MoCaFi is revealing the Summer 2020 release of a revolutionary banking platform that seeks to move the wheels of financial inequality in the Black community towards fairness, affordability, and inclusion — The MoCaFi Mobility Bank Account. 

 

The MoCaFi Account comes with a MoCaFi Mobility Debit Mastercard® where customers access no charge ATM withdrawals, options on how to load your funds, and make purchases everywhere Debit Mastercard is accepted. MoCaFi gets paid by our partners in the network to build the best financial relationship with our customers. 

 

MoCaFi Debit Card funds will be FDIC insured provided the card is registered to the name of the primary cardholder.  When you open a MoCaFi Account, your account number and routing number are immediately available for direct depositing approved payroll and government benefits checks.  This is especially helpful for individuals who are still waiting to receive their $1,200 from the CARES Act.  

 

If you’re a renter, you probably aren’t getting the credit score benefit of paying your highest and most significant expense every month.  There’s no incentive for your landlord to report — until you miss a payment.  Pay rent from funds on your MoCaFi Mobility Bank Account and opt-in to have those payments reported to Equifax and TransUnion as a tool for building your credit score6.  We provide you with free access to your VantageScore by Equifax as a tool to track how your credit profile changes over time7. Ensuring that people’s credit score reflects who they are instead of where they live is an important component of MoCaFi’s mission. 

 

Unlike the original Juneteenth, Black people already know that economic freedom is a possibility and must be made available for all of us. In a post-George Floyd era, a social justice agenda without an economic justice agenda is like one hand clapping. It’s time for us to come together with a standing ovation – for social justice, liberty, and economic equality.  We CAN create a society that ensures a disproportionate number of Black Women entrepreneurs create multi-billion dollar enterprises. We CAN develop a new financial architecture that rewards everyone fairly for the value that they create and contribute.  We CAN live in a country that seeks to maximize the capacity and capabilities of all people – especially Black people.  Our nation will be more reliable and competitive because it will have the full participation of all our residents. That will be a cause for jubilation. 


  1.  “It’s in the Bag: Black Consumers’ Path to Purchase”, Diverse Intelligence Series 2019, Nielsen 
  2.  Survey:  While checking fees vary wildly by race and age, Americans stay loyal to their banks
  3.  Perry, Andre M., Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities, Brookings Institution Press, May 19, 2020.
  4.  “Nine charts about wealth inequality in America (updated),” Urban Institute, October 5, 2017, urban.org
  5.  Prosperity Now. The Road to Zero Wealth: How the Racial Wealth Divide is Hollowing Out America’s Middle Class. Institute for Policy Studies, 2017.
  6. Rental Payment Reporting is not a Sunrise Banks N.A. product, nor does Sunrise Banks N.A. endorse this feature
  7. VantageScore Tracker is not a Sunrise Banks N.A. product, nor does Sunrise Banks N.A. endorse this feature

Fees may be charged by a 3rd party provider of ATM services outside of the MoCaFi network. Review the MoCaFi Account Agreement for account fee details.

The MoCaFi Debit Card is issued by Sunrise Banks N.A., Member FDIC, pursuant to a license from Mastercard International Incorporated. The card may be used everywhere Debit Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated. Use of this card constitutes acceptance of the terms and conditions stated in the Account Agreement.


MoCaFi Testimony for House Financial Service Committee

The Honorable Maxine Waters June 11, 2020
Chairwoman
House Committee on Financial Services
2129 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

 

The Honorable Patrick McHenry
Ranking Member
House Committee on Financial Services
4340 O’Neill House Office Building
Washington, DC 20024

 

Chairwoman Waters, Ranking Member McHenry, Members of the committee and Sub-Committee Chairman Lynch, thank you for the opportunity to provide a statement for the record on Inclusive Banking during a Pandemic/Stimulus Payment Delivery.

 

I am Wole Coaxum, Founder and CEO of Mobility Capital Finance, Inc. (MoCaFi). I spent the first phase of my career working at Citigroup, Willis Towers Watson and J.P. Morgan. As a Managing Director, and one of the most senior African Americans at J.P. Morgan, I managed national and global sales and operations teams in the areas of Treasury Services, Commercial Card and Business Banking. In my final role there, I was responsible for millions of their Business Banking customers and the bankers that serviced them.

 

In August 2014, I – like the rest of the country – watched, as the city of Ferguson, Missouri erupted in protests following the shooting death of Michael Brown.

 

At the time, there was a strong sense that Michael Brown’s death would forever change Ferguson and America. It changed me! In that moment, I made the decision to find ways to help communities like the one where Michael lived and ultimately was killed.

 

In recent months the inequities of our country’s financial systems have been highlighted and exacerbated first by the public health crisis and most recently by historic public unrest. Looking back on the experience of Ferguson, this should not have come as a surprise. Consider the inequities with which a young man like Michael Brown, who allegedly pinched a dollar’s worth of cigars from a corner market, lived on a daily basis. In Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, 25 percent of African Americans lived below the poverty line compared to 11% of Caucasians. The area had seen a 99 percent increase in its impoverished population in a city of just over 21,000¹.

 

And, in this community — like so many others across the nation with similar statistics — you will find more liquor stores than community centers, more corner-store carry outs than grocery stores and more alternative financial services (check-cashing, payday lending, pawn stores) than banks. With these challenges in mind, I decided to use my training and experience in financial services to create a series of tools that would foster economic development in the black community — my community — all across the United States.

 

I wanted to be a part of an economic agenda that could complement the social agenda for the Black Community. At that time, according to the 2013 FDIC Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households, 7.7 percent (1 in 13) of households in the United States were unbanked. This proportion represented nearly 9.6 million households. Additionally, 20 percent of U.S. households (24.8 million) were underbanked, meaning that they had a bank account but also used alternative financial services (AFS) outside of the banking system². That was a total of nearly 35 million people who did not use banks to handle their everyday affairs. Today, the FDIC finds that more than 25 percent of all U.S. households are unbanked or underbanked³ while the Federal Reserve puts the number closer to 55 million households4. In the black community, the statistics are almost double those statistics.

 

Recognition of this reality, with its consequent impacts on opportunity and economic development, began my quest to ensure that everyone in this country who wants access to a bank account can get one. Two years after the Ferguson tragedy, I launched MoCaFi, which stands for Mobility Capital Finance, with a goal to provide finance for all, and especially those in communities like those where Michael Brown lived.

 

MoCaFi is a New York City MWBE Certified financial technology company that offers an array of financial products and services including FDIC-insured bank accounts. The mission of MoCaFi is to work with vulnerable populations in a low-cost, safe, and responsible way by providing banking services for the communities who are traditionally left out of the system. By offering these services, we can begin to close the wealth gap for vulnerable communities and help small businesses that are too often unable to access capital. MoCaFi provides individual customers with no-fee bank accounts and has products that comply with all federal and state regulations.

 

I commend the Task Force for its continued focus on the unbanked and underbanked in our country. MoCaFi is committed to addressing the needs of Americans who currently fall outside the margins of the existing financial system. Each day, we are reaching and connecting with residents who fall into the category of people who are either unbanked or underbanked — including school teachers, home healthcare workers, public housing residents and even first responders.

 

The process of dispersing Economic Impact Payments (EIP) as provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) laid bare the plight of the unbanked and underbanked, the inability for current federal programs and agencies to reach them, and the increased injury this disconnect provides for an already vulnerable segment of our population.

 

As the Task Force explores low or no cost banking options that utilize technology and digital methods to deliver stimulus payments from the government more efficiently in a time of crisis, I would like to take this opportunity to provide recommendations and provide lessons MoCaFi has learned in our effort to serve individuals not currently served by our existing financial system.

 

MoCaFi supports the focus of today’s hearing and the efforts of the Committee and believes the federal government can play a critical role in addressing the needs of the unbanked and underbanked in our country. However, we challenge policymakers to envision a new approach that can provide a 21st century solution to problems that have existed for generations. We are working as a partner with existing financial institutions to help solve intractable problems. Despite everyone’s best efforts, some communities – particularly communities of color – remain very difficult to reach. The implementation and delivery of CARES payments highlights these challenges and points a way toward a better future with more opportunity.

 

Traditional financial models do not lend themselves to high volume, low dollar transactions that would be the norm as communities enter the banking system.

 

We, and other financial technology companies are able to help reach those communities. Financial technology companies can lend their technology and customer base, while banks can provide the licenses and regulatory infrastructure to support this customer base.

 

Another benefit of these partnerships is that banks would not be forced to create a separate subsidiary to handle services for the unbanked and underbanked community. Creating separate subsidiaries would only add costs to a segment of the market where banks do not want to play and do not make any money.

 

Government can also play a critical role in providing the right incentives for financial technology and traditional institution partnerships. The government can allow Community Reinvestment Act credit for these partnerships. One of MoCaFi’s key tenets, that we bring with us to these partnerships, is to help people build their credit. Our innovation is to make it easy for anyone to have their monthly rent payments added to their credit score. We give people a free option to have their monthly rent payment history delivered to two of the three credit bureaus. We are working to report these payments to all three bureaus by the end of the year. Some individuals experience a 30-50 point increase in their score within 60 days of using this service. This new platform, working in concert with the Federal government when appropriate, can put tools in place to ensure universal access to low cost, high quality banking products.

 

As traditional banks partner with companies like ours, we can help to close the banking gap in vulnerable communities. These platforms come with little cost and allow anyone with a smartphone to enter into a financial system that can provide opportunity to all.

 

We face many challenges as a nation. However, we also have a unique opportunity – one highlighted by the recent pandemic, economic dislocation, and civil unrest that have had an outsized impact on underserved communities — to bring millions of people into a banking system that works for everyone. This newfound strength will create wealth-building opportunities for our communities, enable people to save time and money by being able to bank more efficiently and begin to level the playing field regarding access for all people. The power sits with each of you today to move us closer to achieving true financial inclusion.

 

Thank you again for this opportunity, I look forward to working with the committee in the future.


1 https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2014/08/26/ferguson-other-us- suburbs-see-poverty-rise

2 2013 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households

3 2017 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households

4 Holder, Sarah (2019-06-04). “Why Cleveland Wants to Bring Back Postal Banking”. CITYLAB. The Atlantic Monthly Group. Retrieved 2019-06-05.


Pandemics Are Inclusive, Our Financial System Should Be Too


The New York Times posted an article recently [The Rich Are Preparing for Coronavirus Differently, March 5, 2020], that details how wealthy individuals and their families are prepared for the COVID-19 health pandemic. Their efforts reflect the benefit of access to resources which includes purchasing pricey air masks to travel on private planes or acquiring expensive survival kits.  It would appear that is easier to manage a crisis for those who can afford an $8,000 concierge medical service than those who do not have the same advantages. In this case, the challenges of addressing the current situation are much different for the average American.

The 2005 catastrophe — Hurricane Katrina — provides vivid and often disturbing imagery of how low-income residents are affected when a calamity hits.  The distressed wards of New Orleans had families with small children in soiled clothes waiting in line at food distribution centers. These residents were unable to access services and aid because they were cut off from support mechanisms.  They lost everything.  We know that 40% of Americans who, according to the “Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2018 – May 2019” released by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, would have to borrow/sell or be completely unable to handle a $400 emergency expense.  In the case of a state of emergency, where we now find ourselves, COVID-19 is fundamentally changing how we live – impacting everything from workdays and class schedules to public events and Broadway performances.  As Hurricane Katrina taught us, we should assume that the needs of many Americans may go unaddressed.  Consequently, we need to employ new ideas and strategies to support our most vulnerable communities.

As the founder of a fintech platform that addresses a market failure for Americans who exist in the economic margins of our society, my antennae are aflutter. For many Americans, there is a multi-prong approach to preparing for an emergency: keep cash on hand, have access to a secure bank account with a debit card ready, and if you are fortunate enough to have a credit card with some borrowing capacity available. But, for those who only operate in cash, or rely on check cashing, pawnshops, or payday lenders as their financial institutions, which is 50% or more in Black and Brown communities in this country, they will not fare well when they cannot access these facilities or they run out of cash. A SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) report states that “people who are not poor are more likely to have their savings in various places, including financial institutions, which means their wealth is better protected from natural disasters.” [SAMHSA: Disaster Technical Assistance Center Supplemental Research Bulletin, Greater Impact: How Disasters Affect People of Low Socioeconomic Status, July 2017].   As COVID-19 is demonstrating, a lack of access to basic financial services contributes to the ever-widening wealth gap in this country.  This does not have to be the outcome.

In an era of accessibility to the digital economy, providing all communities, especially disenfranchised ones, access to safe and secure banking products must be a priority.  The solution hinges on our ability to give everyone a no/low-fee mobile banking platform.  As federal, state and local governments seek to provide financial resources to families bolstered by efforts in the philanthropic and private sectors, how are we going to get monies to people in a safe, secure and efficient way?  All of us deserve the same financial safeguards – regardless of your zip code, ethnicity, and status.  This can only happen when we reimagine how our financial services infrastructure serves all of us.  MoCaFi is committed to being a part of the solution, strengthening our nation and protecting the most vulnerable amongst us in these unprecedented times.