A bank excellently serving families living under the poverty line in the Golden Triangle region of Mississippi
Mississippi is the state with the largest percentage of its population living under the poverty line. With 19.8% of households in the state making do with less than about $25,000 for a family of four, an estimated 571,219 struggle every day to make ends meet. Poverty rates in the state are higher depending on the demographics: African American families have a poverty rate of almost one third, while Native American populations have a 36.1% chance of living under the poverty line and white households only have a 12.1% chance.
Some like to believe we live in a post-racial country, but the marked inequities in poverty in black and white families tells a story of how slavery and racism still have an impact, especially in the deep south, where racism and Jim Crow lingered longer than in many parts of the country. The systematic denial of home loans to black families through housing discrimination and redlining is what made the largest difference in wealth inequality between races. Most Americans were able to build wealth that could be passed on to their children through home equity, and as African Americans were unable to obtain valuable homes until the 1970s, they were basically starting a race after others had been allowed to cross the finish line.
Although this Better Banking Option did not set out to specifically work with black communities in Mississippi, BankFirst Financial Services works with low- and moderate-income individuals in many towns that have a majority African American population. The two towns which house their corporate offices, Macon and Columbus, have majority black populations. Even without specifically demonstrating a focus on economic racial inequality, BankFirst is known for their exceptional customer service and attentiveness, and have many glowing reviews from customers on their Facebook page. They’re a moderate-sized bank with just under $1 billion in assets, with 17 branches across the Golden Triangle region of Eastern Mississippi, and 76% of these branches are in low-income neighborhoods. In the values statement on their website, BankFirst emphasizes open communication and understanding of their customers as well as fostering a safe and constructive work environment for their employees.
However, the primary reason we’re recommending this banking institution as a Better Banking Option, other than their CDFI designation, is their excellent lending portfolio statistics, which demonstrate their commitment to improving the lives of low- and moderate-income families. About a third of their lending is devoted to housing, with a little more than half of this going to low- and moderate-income households. They do an awesome amount of small business lending, with it making up 20% of their lending, and even do a big chunk of small farm lending, with twice the amount of our benchmark of 2%.
Though they may have some racist history, as they opened in 1888 and most powerful people in Mississippi at this time profited from racism, their lending statistics and tendency to locate in majority black towns demonstrates that they want to invest in alleviating poverty rates in a state which desperately needs investment. They have both online and mobile banking options, so anyone looking to invest poor populations in this region of Mississippi can invest in this Better Banking Option.