Using social media to reach underbanked communities

The wealth gap between Black and white Americans has long been wide and it’s growing: The net worth of a typical white family is roughly 10 times that of a Black family.

Unequal access to financial institutions perpetuates wealth inequality. With fewer financial institutions in nonwhite-majority neighborhoods — 27 for every 100,000 people, compared to 41 in white-majority communities, according to a recent McKinsey & Co. report — Black communities often rely on more expensive services, such as check-cashing counters or payday lenders.

The same report estimates that increased access to financial services could save Black Americans up to $40,000 over their lifetimes. Closing that gap could also have a widespread impact on the nation’s economy through increased investment and consumption. This means banks have a big opportunity — and responsibility — to help close the wealth gap.

Providing an equitable financial system for Black Americans while rebuilding trust lost due to unfair policies and, in some cases, overt racism will not be easy. It will require banks and governmental bodies to change policies and enact a systemic overhaul of the current landscape.

Individual banks can’t achieve that sort of sweeping change on their own, but bank associates can start making a difference now by extending their reach and authentically engaging underbanked people. Social media offers an opportunity to connect, share resources and build trust.

As long as posts and engagement stay compliant with regulatory guidelines, social media can provide individual bank associates with an accessible, non-exclusionary platform to educate the underbanked about the benefits of traditional banking and to bring them into a more stable financial environment. This could give Black communities more opportunity to access trusted advisors, obtain affordable financial services and improve their future financial prospects.

When financial institutions assess their social media strategy, they should keep these priorities in mind when trying to reach underbanked populations:

Empower employees with a voice on social media. When banks give employees the permission and resources they need to share branded content on their individual social media profiles, they empower them to reach more communities than brand pages can alone.

Granting employees this access not only brings a greater possibility of reaching underbanked people, but it also gives Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) associates a platform to showcase representation in the banking industry. They can build relationships and use their knowledge and skills to help create more access to financial services.

A Nielsen report found that Black Americans are 26 percent more likely than the overall population to say they enjoy sharing their opinions about products and services online. Bank employees can expect to bring in more business if they have a positive impact.

Be a helpful resource. Ultimately, the mission of any financial institution is to provide financial education — and that should mean to all communities. Individual employees can take the time to learn what underbanked communities around them are struggling with financially, then evaluate what kinds of resources or information might help.

This can be as simple as sharing helpful, educational material on social media and engaging with anyone who has questions about it. For instance, a link to a blog post that breaks down the homebuying process into easily digestible steps and offers additional reference material could be an incredibly valuable resource.Build trust through personal relationships. With a rocky history of redlining and racial discrimination, it’s no surprise many Black Americans don’t trust financial institutions. The process of rebuilding that trust will take real action and commitment.

When bank employees share content on social media that’s specifically useful to people in underserved communities, they can show their commitment by responding promptly to questions and keeping up consistent, helpful engagement. Humans trust other humans more than brands, so when associates show their networks that they have a genuine interest in helping out by engaging one-on-one, they can begin to rebuild that lost trust.

Black Americans deserve more than what financial institutions have offered over the years. Banks and governing bodies have a responsibility to create more equitable financial systems for underbanked communities and to help bridge the wealth gap. As part of that process, individual bank employees can provide a valuable voice and impact.

Doug Wilber is the CEO of Denim Social.