Getting Involved

Article excerpt

ICBA promotes financial literacy and civic involvement

Independent banks have been the foundation of economic growth in their communities for many generations. Likewise, ICBA has been a strong supporter of these institutions as they work to give back to their communities. Together community banks and ICBA collaborate for civic causes and to improve financial literacy. In partnerships with other organizations, they are making a difference in the lives of numerous people.

Habitat for Humanity

One of the most visible initiatives that ICBA and its members are involved in is Habitat for Humanity. As a nonprofit organization, Habitat for Humanity operates nationally through its 1,700 local affiliates to bring affordable housing to needy families. Community banks have worked successfully with these affiliates for years on an informal basis, but in 2004 ICBA forged an alliance with the ministry to solidify that bond.

"We recognized that we needed to do something on a more formal level," says Tony Sidiropoulos, ICBA's director of marketing. "We know our bank members do things; we've done things as staff members locally here in our Washington, D.C. and Virginia offices, as well as in the Minnesota office. But this is something our members are passionate about, and we needed to do something on a more national level."

To that end, ICBA's alliance with Habitat for Humanity serves as a vehicle for getting more community bankers involved in helping low-income families attain better housing. One of the activities planned is a "Hammers Across America" National Build Day, the first of which will be held on June 11, 2005, to coincide with homeownership month.

"We are extremely excited about our relationship with ICBA," says Tom Jones, vice president for Habitat for Humanity International, "particularly ICBA's National Build Day, as it will mark the beginning of a mutually beneficial partnership as well as send a message to our affiliates that opportunities to partner with ICBA members await them."

ICBA is equally enthusiastic about the arrangement. "We want to reach out to member banks that want to participate and align them with local affiliates," says Sidiropoulos. "We want to let everybody know that community banks work in their communities to help through Habitat for Humanity, and we want to have projects going the same weekend all across the country."

For several years ICBA has held a build/fundraising activity in conjunction with its national convention. Every year, the association donates money to the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate in the convention city. During the conference, participants and ICBA staff-a group that often reaches 50 in number-participate in a build.

"Because both organizations are committed to increasing affordable housing opportunities and improving communities, Habitat for Humanity and ICBA will better the lives of many deserving families across the country," Jones declares.

Money Smart

But how does one become a homeowner if he or she doesn't even have a relationship with a bank? That's the quandary many would-be homeowners face and a problem many financial institutions are trying to solve. The solution? Better education, say financial experts, who suggest bridging the financial literacy gap, is key in preparing this group for eventual homeownership. To that end, ICBA has made the campaign for better financial literacy a priority. One of its most prominent initiatives is the FDIC's Money Smart program.

Since 2001, ICBA has worked to promote Money Smart, a curriculum designed to encourage unbanked individuals to join the financial mainstream by educating them on the value of a banking relationship. With ICBA's help, the program has been successful in reaching out to those who need financial instruction.

"Two years ago we made a commitment [to the FDIC] to promote this program to our members, and our members- being who they are-have stepped up to the plate," says Sidiropoulos. …