FRESNO -- For most folks in the central San Joaquin Valley, writing a check to pay a bill, swiping an ATM card to buy gasoline or even using a smart phone app to buy a latte is second nature.
But tens of thousands of valley residents, either by choice or by circumstance, don't have that convenience. Fresno has the second-highest share of what financial-services experts call "the unbanked" -- adults who own neither a checking account nor savings account at a bank or credit union.
Their financial strategy, such as it is, is often little more than paying a check-cashing store to cash their paycheck or benefit check, paying cash for living expenses or using prepaid, fee-laden debit cards or high-interest payday loans. Their savings, if they have any, is cash stuffed in their pockets or purses, squirreled away in a hole in the backyard, or even tucked under the proverbial mattress or some other hiding place in their home.
There are many reasons why people don't have accounts, "but I'd have to say the biggest reason is misinformation," said Sevag Tateosian, who heads the Bank on Fresno program for the Fresno County United Way. "There are so many people who don't really understand the banking system and how important it is for someone's future."
Bank on Fresno and the statewide Bank on California programs aim to shepherd the unbanked into the financial mainstream. And in large measure, they've been successful.
When Bank on Fresno was launched in 2009, it had a goal of opening about 10,000 new checking or savings accounts for unbanked people at its participating banks and credit unions. It has smashed that goal, opening more than 60,000 accounts in a little over three years.
Bank on California, started in 2008 by Gov. Schwarzenegger, has continued under Gov. Jerry Brown and is under the supervision of the state Department of Financial Institutions. It, too, has far surpassed its goal of 100,000 new accounts statewide, generating about 240,000.