a progressive region with a wealth of mission-driven banks and credit unions
Made up of San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland, the Bay Area is commonly known as one of the most affluent and liberal major metropolitan areas in the country. Like many densely populated areas, it’s also a region with a significant immigrant population, with about a third of San Francisco residents being foreign-born. This makes the Bay Area a particularly accepting and culturally vibrant locality, but also one that can be hard to thrive or even survive in, at least financially.
The Bay Area is a particularly interesting landscape for banking, with two factors really defining it. One, the cost of living is significantly higher than most parts of the country, making it even more difficult for low- and moderate-income (shortened to LMI for the rest of this article) households to access quality lending. Two, more people in this area would be considered politically liberal, and in turn more people are conscientious of their ethical economic practices, whether this means “better banking” or ethical consumption. These two characteristics make it both more necessary and more likely for mission driven banks to thrive, and it has resulted in a wealth of Better Banking Options in all three major Bay Area cities.
There are many Better Banking Options in the Bay Area, many of which seek to address particular disparities in the banking industry. In such a unique locality, and with our list below to make it easy, there’s never been a better time to start supporting LMI families in San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland. (Banking institutions below are listed under the city where their headquarters are located- many of them have branches in all three Bay Area cities.)
Self-Help Federal Credit Union is one of the first Better Banking Options we ever featured on this blog, and is the sixth best result when you look up San Francisco in our search engine.* Founded in 1980, Self-Help Credit Union began by helping cooperatives of farm workers procure local mills as corporations were shutting them down, individuals who had been turned down for loans in conventional financing. Self-Help has continued to grow substantially over the past twenty years through mergers with like-minded institutions that may not have enough capital to continue on their own. Self-Help is technically two credit unions--Self-Help Credit Union, which works primarily in the Deep South, and Self-Help Federal Credit Union, which works mostly in urban areas in the Midwest and West Coast—that work together to extend lending options to underserved populations across the nation. They’re a designated CDFI, as well as being designated an LICU and an MCU. We highly recommend them to those in San Francisco, as they have a long history of supporting low-income and minority populations. They have one branch in each of the major Bay Area cities, but offer mobile and online banking options, so even those who don’t live close to a branch can take advantage of their services.
Mission National Bank, as you can probably guess by their name, is a mission-driven bank in San Francisco striving to provide exceptional banking service to underserved communities. However, although they are mission-driven, the name actually refers to their locality, the Mission District, which is a LMI census tract and a Latinx-majority neighborhood. They were founded in 1982 and have remained small and locally focused since, with only one branch in San Francisco. However, they do offer online and mobile banking, and members have access to their account through AllPoint’s network of 55,000 surcharge-free ATMs, so anyone is able to support this Better Banking Option. According to their website, around 90% of their members are first or second generation immigrants. This is backed up by the fact that they’ve earned both MDI and CDFI designations. We’d recommend them to anyone in the area looking to support LMI and immigrant populations.
Sequoia FCU is actually located in Redwood City, which is about 27 miles south of San Francisco. It started specifically as a credit union for teachers in the area, but has now expanded their membership to all employees of the school system and a few other organizations; learn more about their membership eligibility here. Although this makes them a very small and limited credit union, we’re including them on this list because they’re both a designated minority credit union (MCU) and the third option that comes up on the list when you look up San Francisco in our search engine. Because of their score in our search engine, we know they do a significant amount of quality lending, and if you do qualify for membership they’re a fantastic Better Banking Option because their focus is specific and personalized.
Stanford FCU is another credit union located in Redwood City, included because of their stellar score in our search engine (placing them in second place when you look up San Francisco). However, they have a much wider range of membership, including employees of many large companies or anyone associated with Stanford University. They have six branches in the Bay Area and 30 ATMs, and even offer access to their services through a great many shared branches and ATMs across the country. Like the above Better Banking Option, we’d recommend them to anyone who qualifies for membership.
Mission City FCU started as a credit union formed specifically for employees of Santa Clara County more than 60 years ago in 1959. They’ve since widened their membership eligibility to include anyone who lives or works in the county, but have maintained their focus on being the best local, community credit union they can be. They’re the fourth option that comes up when you look up San Jose in our search engine, even though they don’t do a ton of quality lending (which is typical for most credit unions). However, they are a small banking institution with only one branch, located in a LMI census tract, which boosts their score in our metric. Through this, we can see that they’re providing essential and personalized banking services to their community members in a working-class neighborhood. This has also earned them a Low-Income Credit Union (LICU) designation. We’d recommend them to anyone who falls under their membership eligibility.
Community Bank of the Bay was the first bank in California to be certified as a CFDI, and their main claim to fame is their Bay Area Green Fund, which specifically lends to businesses committed to positively impacting the environment. Their overall focus is small business lending, looking for “owner-operated businesses that are experiencing change, growth or expansion.” They also do significant work with local non-profits and community groups. Through all of their banking practices, they are locally-minded, with 93% of their clients being local. They have four locations--in Oakland, Danville, San Mateo and Campbell--the three former branches being full-service and the last in Campbell being a loan-only office. They offer both online and mobile banking, so anyone can open an account with them. We’d recommend them to anyone looking to support small businesses in the Bay Area, especially those who value environmentally friendly business practices.
Cooperative Center FCU has earned most of the banking designations available to them, being a certified MCU, LICU and CDFI. They’re in the top 20 results when you look up San Francisco in our search engine, ranking higher than a lot of credit unions. With an 80-year history dating back to 1942, they began to serve members of a particular co-op, but have since evolved to serve members of many different organizations; check here to see if you qualify for eligibility. Their goal was to create an effective financial institution which would truly reflect the values of their membership, with a democratic process that lets everyone have a say. They offer both online and mobile banking, so anyone who qualifies for membership is able to bank with them. We’d recommend them to anyone who qualifies and wants to bank with a great community credit union within a wider network of cooperatives.
Gateway Bank, F.S.B. is the first result that comes up when you look up San Francisco in our search engine, which is a good enough reason to bank with them, indicating both quality lending and a local focus in LMI neighborhoods. They opened in 1995 with the goal of becoming a truly community-oriented bank in Oakland’s Chinatown, and in our opinion, they’ve definitely succeeded in this goal. They’re a designated MDI with an Asian majority and although they haven’t earned a CDFI designation, we suspect this is because they’re just too small to have the resources to attain it, as their lending statistics would more than qualify them. Their lending focus is mostly on home ownership, as about two-thirds of their portfolio is mortgage lending. Although they only have one branch, they offer both online and mobile banking, so anyone looking to support LMI and immigrant neighborhoods in the Bay Area can open an account with them and start making a difference with their deposits.
Metropolitan Bank is headquartered in Oakland, but has locations in all three of the cities included in this article. This year they’re celebrating their fortieth anniversary, having been established in 1983 in Oakland’s Chinatown. They’re a designated MDI, being a Chinese-majority bank, and they actually offer their services in Chinese- especially important considering the number of immigrant customers in the neighborhoods they serve. Metropolitan’s focus is on providing a personal touch by really getting to know the specific banking needs of their customers to build long lasting relationships. However, this doesn’t stop them from also providing modern technologies, as they have both online and mobile banking. The main reason we’re recommending them, though, is because they pop up fifth when you look up San Francisco in our search engine. They’re doing significant quality lending and two of their four branches are in LMI census tracts. We would recommend them to anyone looking to specifically support Asian communities in the Bay Area.
As you can clearly see, there’s simply no excuse for not supporting one of these Better Banking Options if you’re in the Bay Area. With all the options available, you’re sure to find one that works best for your personal banking needs.
Your deposits can be doing so much more than just sitting in a savings account. They can be put to work making your community a better place, and if your bank isn’t specifically lending to those most vulnerable in our communities they’re not doing enough. In a place where class differences are especially apparent, your bank account is a great place to start lessening these disparities. To uplift LMI and immigrant populations in the Bay Area, move your money to one of the above Better Banking Options TODAY.
* Bank of America shows up the search engine, but because this is a mortgage lending office specifically and is technically classified as a separate bank from the conglomerate.