A new Texas Bankers Association initiative called CREATE — Community Reinvestment and Trust Enterprise — serves as the Texas banking industry’s proactive approach to building opportunity, economic well-being and wealth-creation in under-banked and underserved communities. 

Through strategic partnerships with community banks and organizations, the program seeks to provide small business owners and entrepreneurs in low- to moderate-income areas with business education and planning skills needed for a successful financial future.

“The CREATE program is an excellent opportunity for the banking system in the state of Texas to reach the community where they live,” said Carol Guess, interim president of the Greater Houston Black Chamber of Commerce. 

Designed to unite Texas banks, local business organizations and community groups in a “whole of community” approach, the program addresses challenges that limit access to capital. The program supports Texas banks and their communities through three pillars: 

  • financial literacy, 
  • business literacy and 
  • workforce diversity.

“Historically, people don’t know banks, they don’t know bankers personally and the program helps to demystify what banking is about, who are the people behind the banking system and how the banking system can work for them,” Guess added.

The creation of the pilot program

CREATE first launched as a pilot program with leading partners, Unity National Bank in Houston and the Greater Houston Black Chamber (GHBC). After seeing a need within the Houston community, the CREATE initiative was born.

“CREATE was brought to Unity National Bank to better assist us with putting out resources for business owners, especially small business owners and consumers who are unbanked or underserved, as well as those who don’t have a good sense of banking and how the system works,” said Sherifat Lawal Price, vice president of business development and marketing at Unity National Bank.

The Small Business Administration-backed Paycheck Protection Program helped many businesses keep their workforce employed and their doors open during the COVID-19 crisis. However, many of the small business owners struggled to navigate some aspects of the PPP program such as eligibility and forgiveness.

During the pandemic, both Unity National Bank and GHBC received requests from small business owners in the community regarding the need for assistance on understanding PPP such as qualifying, applications, funding, forgiveness and more.

As a result, Unity National Bank and GHBC turned to TBA to help assist with a platform to educate the Houston community about banking.

“TBA has done a wonderful job at partnering with us in the past,” added Lawal Price. “This is just something that we were able to come together, especially with bringing the Greater Houston Black Chamber in, because they also have members that need the same resources as well. It was just perfect timing.”

The CREATE program kicked off its first official webinar to explain the progress. The virtual event was offered as a complimentary community education program that addressed these concerns to help small business owners. The webinar was promoted through email marketing, social media and word of mouth, and attracted over two dozen individuals within the Houston market.

“This is the exact type of information and relationship that needs to be established for underserved communities to get the most out of the banking system,” Guess said.

Following the PPP-driven forum, the CREATE program hosted its second and third webinars, this time with a focus on gaining access to capital. Highlights included how to write an executive summary, fill out legal forms and read financial statements, as well as understanding the importance of business relationships with a certified personal accountant and community banker.

“The programs were effective because they [explained] the whole banking relationship … and helped attendees get a cohesive understanding of what’s needed to make their banking relationship successful,” Guess noted.

Through the CREATE initiative, Texas banks can help to support small businesses who do not have the proper resources and opportunities to thrive through building relationships and trust with their communities.

Generating community alliances

For many decades, Unity National Bank and the Greater Houston Black Chamber have strived to make a difference in the communities in which they serve. 

Founded in 1963 and later nationally chartered in 1985, Unity National Bank is the only African American-owned banking institution in Texas and only one of two African American-owned banks with a national charter. 

The Houston-based community bank is committed to providing banking services to historically underserved businesses and individuals and aims to serve a diverse customer base.

“Everything that we’re doing for the community is to help them grow,” said Price. “When the community grows, we grow. If it wasn’t for the community, we wouldn’t be here.”

In addition, GHBC has also evolved into an active participant in the city of Houston’s socioeconomic process. 

Founded as the city’s first African American civic organization in 1935, the organization is dedicated to supporting various small businesses in the areas of education, certification and accessing contracting opportunities and capital.

Building partnerships and alliances via the CREATE initiative with community banks and compatible organizations will help continue to build strong banks and stronger communities.

“The synergy around chambers or any type of organization that you can get in front of and partner with to push [CREATE] is very important,” Price added.

To expand the reach of the CREATE program, the TBA member relations team is working directly with member banks through the initiative to create customizable programs to fit the bank’s needs, strategy and goals within their communities.

Building upon the three pillars

Financial education is increasingly important — and not just for young adults. Whether an entrepreneur or future banker, strong personal finance skills can support key life goals from buying a home to owning a business.

“It’s important to understand the community, understand their needs and once we have identified that, then we’re able to come back and provide different programming where it can assist individuals, small businesses and other organizations to help them thrive,” Price noted.

Texas continues to make financial literacy programs a priority in schools, particularly at the high school level, with the recent passage of SB 1063. This marks one step forward in helping the under-banked and unbanked become more resilient in the face of any future economic crisis.

Financial literacy is a core life skill for participating in modern society. The importance of understanding money management, credit and borrowing and savings continues to grow, and unfortunately, many underserved communities do not have the necessary skills that lead to economic well-being, resilience, savings and wealth creation. 

As public school budgets and curricula are stretched, banks have proudly supported and invested in financial literacy programs for years.

Being financially literate also means having a general knowledge of the fiscal and economic landscape of business. Small business owners and entrepreneurs in underserved communities may not have access to business education and training. 

To allow for sustainable communities, banks must support viable businesses, community growth and jobs. This, in turn, will provide sustainable markets for banks and expand access to capital in all communities.

Finally, banks need a workforce that includes individuals who know and are from the communities they serve. To create a more distinct workforce, banks are encouraged to include training for frontline bankers and lenders as well as NextGen bank executive leaders.

Banks can look to hire the next generation of bankers and tap into programs such as Texas A&M-Kingsville and Texas Southern University as well as the vocational training program available at Dallas College, BankWork$.

“Once you get introduced to the CREATE program, there’s no turning back,” said Price. “Because all the resources and tools that you would ever think of are there.”