Bill Bynum of Jackson is the chief executive officer of HOPE (Hope Enterprise Corp., Hope Credit Union and Hope Policy Institute), which provides financial services, aggregates resources and engages in advocacy to mitigate the extent to which factors such as race, gender, birthplace and wealth limit one’s ability to prosper.
Since 1994, HOPE has generated more than $3.1 billion in financing that has benefitted nearly 2 million people in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.
Bynum began his professional career in North Carolina by helping to establish Self-Help, a pioneer in the development finance industry, and later built nationally recognized programs at the NC Rural Economic Development Center. In 1994, he moved to Mississippi to become the founding CEO of the Enterprise Corporation of the Delta, and in 1995 organized Hope Community Credit Union.
Bynum serves on the boards of the Aspen Institute, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Prosperity Now, William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation and is a member of the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty. He previously chaired the Treasury Department’s Community Development Advisory Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Consumer Advisory Board.
How did Hope Credit Union, a Black- and woman-owned financial institution, receive an $88 million award from the Emergency Capital Investment Program, which is part of a 2021 stimulus package passed by Congress? The Emergency Capital Investment Program amounts to $8.7 billion that is split among 186 financial institutions.
“We’ve been working toward this kind of investment as long as we’ve been in existence. We started in the mid-1990s and the idea was to import capital into capital poor communities. There’s not a lot of resources in the Delta and the Deep South compared to the other parts of the country.
“Federal funding has always been important. We hosted President Bill Clinton in Clarksdale in 2004 at a company we financed and that resulted in the new markets tax credit that injected billions into low-income communities.
“Times of crisis create awareness and open doors of opportunity. It was clear the pandemic had a disproportionate effect on low-income counties and communities of color. We’ve been working with Congress, both the prior and current administrations, to make sure they knew organizations like HOPE were critical to ensuring families and businesses had the resource they need to navigate this economic crisis.
“Our policy center provided some of the language that was in the initial draft that the House of Representatives passed that resulted in this legislation. In December, Congress passed part of the recovery act that included $12 billion for Community Development Financial Institutions certified by the U.S. Treasury, loan funds and credit unions that as their primary mission are filling capital gaps.
“Hope was one of the first community development financial institutions certified in the mid-1990s during the Clinton administration. I chaired the Treasury’s Community Development Advisory Board from the Clinton administration to the last of the Obama administration.
“Nine billion dollars was made available to depositories, Community Development Financial Institution depositories and minority depositories, and Hope is both. The majority of the owners are women and people of color. That money is regulatory capital. For every dollar of the $88 million, we can use it as equity on our balance sheets. Depository banks and credit unions are required to have strong equity capital in order to raise deposits. That puts us in a position to raise more deposits.”
When did Hope Credit Union apply for the funding?
“We applied for it last year. I was honored to be at the Treasury (on Dec. 14, 2021) when Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen made the announcement during the Freedman’s Bank Forum. During the announcement, Vice President Harris talked about the conversation she had had with me about places in the Delta. She talked about having talked to leaders over the past year about what was needed to improve conditions.
“My daughter, Blythe, put a video clip of the announcement on her Instagram. That was neat.”
The Emergency Capital Investment Program is the largest community finance development program ever created. How historic is it for Hope Credit Union?
“It took us 14 years for Hope Credit Union to grow to between $80 and $90 million. In one day, we got that much in capital. It is a big deal.”
“It is a game changer for us and other organizations that are first responders in some of the most economically distressed communities in the country.”
How will Hope Credit Union use the $88 million investment from the Emergency Capital Investment Program?
“We can use it to support small businesses and homeowners and get people out of payday lending debt traps. When your mission is serving bank deserts and very distressed communities, there’s not a lot of capital in those communities as there is Madison, Rankin and Desoto counties.
“We serve some of the poorest places in the country. We have to import capital into these places to do what people in more affluent places take for granted.”
“It will basically allow us to do a lot more of what we’ve been doing the last 25 years without this kind of resource. It will grow our deposits, which is what we use to make loans. We’re at $430 million in assets, which would be a good size credit union if we were just in Jackson, but we cover five states. This will give us more resources to use in a lot of underserved communities across the Deep South.”
What impact has Hope Credit Union had on its members?
“Half of the members of our credit union didn’t have a bank account before joining Hope. Many were relying on payday lenders. Our average member has less than $1,000 in a savings account. We’re serving economically challenged people in their communities.
“Hope opens the doors for people to apply for mortgage loans. Eighty percent of our mortgage loans are for first-time homeowners. Some people are paying as much for rent as they would if they had a mortgage. Owning a home allows them to build assets that could pass along to their children and stabilizes their lives. When someone is a homeowner, their health becomes better and the kids do better in school, data shows. Homeownership is still the primary asset on most American’s balance sheets.”
How have small businesses benefited from Hope Credit Union during the pandemic?
“So many small businesses were shut down during the pandemic. In a normal year, we make 50 small business loans. Since March 2020, we have made 5,000 paycheck protection loans to mom and pop businesses that couldn’t get a loan from a traditional bank. Hopefully, we helped them survive the initial crisis. They’ll need additional support to go forward as the economy continues to be uncertain.”
Where does Hope Credit Union operate?
“Hope Credit Union operates in five stations: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. There are about 28 locations.”
How has Hope Credit Union grown through the years?
“It started out as a $1.5 million loan fund. We always had the audacious goal of transforming people’s ability to access the financial system in the Delta. We’ve grown beyond the Delta but the core mission stays the same. We’ve always known we needed help from people who care about these issues, people who know that when our neighbors do better, we all do better. It’s been fantastic to see more people acknowledge that.”
How has economic uncertainty helped Hope Credit Union grow?
“It’s unfortunate that a pandemic creates opportunity, but times of crisis create awareness and open doors. We grew dramatically after Hurricane Katrina. We expanded to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and to New Orleans to help fill the gap. After the Great Recession and housing crisis in 2007 and 2008, we grew from eight to 30 locations.
“People don’t stop needing basic, affordable financial services. We stepped up to respond to that need.”
What led you to be interested in starting a credit union?
“I grew up around people who need the kind of services we provide. My family benefited from a credit union based in the garage of a vice principal’s house when people of color couldn’t go into a local bank and get served. What credit unions do is allow people to pool their resources to help each other. It’s something that resonates with me from a personal basis.
“When I moved to Mississippi, I mentioned at the church I joined that I had been involved in credit unions in North Carolina. The pastor mentioned that he wanted to do something to help stop payday lending. This grew out of church. It was my ministry and still is.”