Since 2004, April has been recognized as National Financial Literacy Month—a time intended to raise awareness around the importance of financial literacy, and to teach citizens how to establish and maintain healthy financial habits. Having safe and sound access to credit, as well as knowledge about how to properly manage finances, is instrumental for economic well-being. For many marginalized Americans, however, this month is a reminder of how they’ve been excluded financially. Due to systemic racism, the capacity of African Americans to build wealth and save for the future has been severely inhibited.
According to the 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances, the average white American family had a total wealth of $182,200—about eight times the wealth of the average African American family, which stood at $24,100. The racial wealth gap causes African American families to suffer from economic hardship, which threatens financial security and shrinks the ability of African Americans to fully participate in the economy. In banking, the legacy of systemic racism has impeded many Black families in their efforts to affordably save, invest, and insure themselves against risks, causing generations of African Americans to struggle to build wealth.
As International Monetary Fund Deputy Managing Director Mitsuhiro Furusawa once said, “Financial inclusion is the bridge between economic opportunity and outcomes.” Targeted efforts need to be taken to enrich financial inclusion, address historical inequities, and ensure financial longevity for many African American families. Exclusionary policies and strategies, from limited access to federal mortgage lending to geographic barriers to physical bank branches, have hindered Black economic well-being. According to the FDIC Survey of Household Use of Banking and Financial Services, about 14% of African Americans are unbanked, an alarming figure that’s almost 10 percentage points higher than the [hotlink]nationwide[/hotlink] unbanked rate.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately taken the lives of African Americans, while simultaneously widening the racial wealth gap and halting the little economic progress African Americans have made over the last few decades. A recent paper by University of Chicago economists shows the degree to which households cut spending in response to a sudden and unexpected income shock. The findings of their research provide evidence that the households most vulnerable to painful economic effects were those with few liquid assets— households that are disproportionately more likely to be Black or Latinx.
Systemic change is necessary to ensure financial inclusion is achieved for marginalized populations. A lack of inclusion for Black Americans exists at every level of the financial system.
Champions of financial inclusion
To address this lack of inclusion, there are several Black women pioneers who are working to make the financial industry more equitable. In honor of National Financial Literacy Month, we recognize eight of them here. Though they work in different areas of finance, they’re each focused on using technology to expand opportunities for underserved communities.
Lauryn Nwankpa is the head of social impact at Dave, a smart digital banking service that provides an immediate solution for members facing financial challenges through administering low-cost loans to members’ individual accounts at their banks for overdraft protection.
Natasha Bansgopaul is the co-founder and chief operating officer of the fintech platform DarcMatter. DarcMatter streamlines the capital raising process for fund managers by easily facilitating access for investors to research and invest in quality and diverse products online. Natasha’s work reflects her commitment to increasing diversity and awareness of black female entrepreneurs.
Olayinka Odeniran is a financial services risk management expert and attorney who specializes in blockchain, crypto, and emerging technologies. Odeniran is the co-founder of the Black Women Blockchain Council, a platform she uses to increase the number of young girls and Black women involved in blockchain, fintech, and other emerging technologies.
Faith Obafemi is an emerging tech legal advisor with law practice areas that revolve around legal technology, blockchain, cryptocurrency, and smart contracts.
Gloria Kimbwala is the cofounder of Bisalu, a company dedicated to assisting corporate brands to lead in areas of diversity, inclusion and belonging. She serves as the technical advisor on the boards of directors of the Society of Women Coders (SOWCoders) and the Black Women Blockchain Council.
Kahina Van Dyke is the global head of digital channels and data analytics at Standard Chartered’s corporate commercial and institutional banking division where she oversees the connection between the world’s largest corporates, financial institutions and investors by facilitating access and financing options to markets in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Kahina’s work reflects her passion for accelerating the next generation of global financial services and payments to serve people, business and communities around the world.
Roshawnna Novellus is the founder and CEO of EnrichHER, a blockchain enabled platform created to provide funding, networking, and educational opportunities for the vastly underserved women-led business community.
Fonta Gilliam is CEO of Invest Sou Sou, a company she founded after working for over ten years as a U.S. diplomat in East Asia and Africa and a management consultant for Deloitte's emerging markets practice. Inspired by village savings and loan traditions, Invest Sou Sou is a smart social banking platform designed to help community banks provide low-cost deposits to credited borrowers. Invest Sou Sou uses the power of social networking, peer accountability, and artificial intelligence (AI) to help people save, build strong credit and invest together, with people they trust, at their local community bank.
Sheena Allen is the founder of tech startup CapWay; she’s the youngest woman in America to own and operate a digital bank. CapWay offers a mobile application for specialized financial services and products for individuals that do not have access to banks, connecting underserved millennials and Gen-Z to today’s cashless economy.
Correction, April 22. 2020: An earlier version of this story misspelled the first name of Roshawnna Novellus.
Kayla Jones is chief community engagement officer of the Sadie Collective, an organization building the pipeline and pathway for Black women in economics. She is also a Federal Reserve staffer and alumni of the Harvard GSAS Research Scholar Initiative program. Views expressed here do not reflect those of the Federal Reserve System.
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com