Written by Demetris Giannoulias, CEO of Spring Bank
When we started Spring Bank in 2007, the economic boom of the 2000s was at its peak. While Wall Street was doing great and banks were expanding in ways they never had and into complex financial products of which no one knew the effects, a few miles north in the Bronx, just off the 4 train, basic banking services which had the power to make people’s lives better, were sorely lacking. Many Bronxites’ only access to financial services was the local check casher, pawn shop or corner loan shark. It was time, we felt, for a bank to be opened and headquartered in the Bronx. And it was time for a bank to commit itself to providing financial products to consumers that were traditionally ignored or intimidated or abused by banks. It was in this spirit that we opened CheckSpring Bank in 2007. We would keep it simple: take deposits, make loans, and provide banking services to people whether or not they had a hefty balance sheet, or even enough money to keep in an account. We would be a financial resource for our community.
Our initial plan was to look more like a check cashing store than a bank. We intentionally kept the word “bank” off the sign on our front door, choosing instead to go by CheckSpring. Many people in our communities have an inherent mistrust of banks, whether from bad experiences in the countries that they have come from or from dealing with banks here. Our plan was to provide check cashing, bill payment and the array of products people go to check cashers for, but to do it alongside a suite of low cost and transparent banking products that people could move into as they gain trust in us and realized the value of a banking relationship.
Pretty soon after we opened, the products Wall Street created brought financial markets to a meltdown state and the economy came to a crashing halt. This hurt many people, and of course the first and hardest hit were working class communities. Funny that this only helped make our mission clearer to us as banks retreated further from poorer communities and from the small businesses that help these communities thrive. Instead of retreat, we knew it was time to grow. Our small business lending grew rapidly as did our lending throughout the boroughs of New York. We saw an opportunity to expand our mission to Harlem by opening a branch on 111th Avenue. And we decided that we should shorten our name, brighten our colors and identify as a bank, albeit a different kind of bank. Enter Spring Bank.
The rest is history. We are profitable and have successfully grown our balance sheet by working with small businesses and small real estate borrowers throughout the boroughs. Simultaneously, we have helped thousands of people move from check cashing to deposit customers, so that they can keep more of their hard-earned paychecks. We have created new consumer loan products that don’t rely on credit scores and we are using technology to help us continue to innovate.
Times are better now for a lot of people, but like 2007, there are still many people excluded from the opportunity to build wealth. Our mission remains clear to us: provide banking services to help people climb the economic ladder. Ten years ago, we didn’t know we were working to create an inclusive economy. Today, we do. We believe everyone has the right to the opportunity to build wealth for their families. Just like yours. Just like mine. Just like our community, our family in the Bronx.