Its leaders aim to usher in a new era of banking for South Los Angeles
On Thursday, May 6, Chase Bank (on the corner of Crenshaw Blvd. and Vernon Blvd.) marked the grand opening of its first community center branch in California, a completely redesigned banking experience for the South Los Angeles community in the Crenshaw District.
The new branch has a focus on helping people of color and small businesses owners in underserved communities.
The new community center is part of JPMorgan Chase’s $30 billion five-year commitment to advance racial equity and close the racial wealth gap by bringing more opportunities to diverse and underserved communities, like South Los Angeles where 19% of the people live below the poverty line.
“Crenshaw is one of the most culturally significant and influential places in America. Our new Community Center in Crenshaw reaffirms our commitment to helping the community grow. We want to help people build a strong financial foundation so they can thrive and build wealth,” said Lawrence Bailey, Chase’s nationwide Head of Community and Business Development.
The community center, located on 4401 Crenshaw Boulevard, marked its official grand opening last week with an official ribbon cutting ceremony. The event was a true celebration for the Crenshaw and South Los Angeles community, featuring messages from local business leaders and other luminaries from across greater Los Angeles, including U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass, former professional athletes, Derek Fisher and Marcellus Wiley, and Hollywood actor Kevin Hart.
Wiley, in his remarks, said he never had any financial mentors growing up, and so, he preached the importance of using valuable financial resources located in your neighborhood. “Never was I introduced to the understanding of money and financial literacy. So, looking back on those times and seeing this [community center] in front us, everyone needs to understand how having a community center like this at your doorstep, one can improve the financial standing of our community,” said Wiley.
The community center will offer traditional banking services but it will also have other innovative features like a tech bar and free Wi-Fi for the public. The center also boasts a community living room with sofas and auditorium-like space to offer public workshops on subjects such as, how to open a savings account, how to build a budget, improving your credit score, and how to save to buy a house.
“A lot of our families are living from paycheck-to-paycheck. A lot of people needed the stimulus money. So, with that we have to be able to provide savings tools, different classes, resources, and other things for the community to understand how to budget and how to manage their finances successfully,” said Christanne Fuston, Crenshaw Branch Manager for Chase.
With so many local businesses struggling from pandemic, the new community center will also offer mentors to entrepreneurs who want to start their own small business.
At the ribbon cutting event, local small business owners were also there speaking about the importance and the need to invest and believe in the community. Dulan’s on Crenshaw and South LA Cafe were present.
“I think the new Chase Bank community center approach has the potential to make a significant impact in the community as it relates to economic disparity. They have loaded this branch with professional financial managers, bankers, and lenders. I haven’t seen anything like this in my nearly 50 years in business. The branch is beautiful. They have space for counsel and community events. This will make the community better by being able to train a new generation financial literacy, financial management and how to set financial goals. That’s going to have an impact down the road. I know this is going to be an added value for folks in the Crenshaw District,” said Dulan.
As part of Chase’s offering to local small businesses, JPMorgan Chase recently launched the Minority Entrepreneur Program to increase lending and technical assistance to businesses in Black and Latinx communities. The program is currently in 13 cities across the U.S., including Los Angeles.
Over the next five years, Chase will provide an additional 15,000 loans to minority-owned small businesses – up to $2 billion. Through Chase’s Minority Entrepreneur Program, business owners will be matched with a senior business consultant who will provide advisory services such as mentorship, business development coaching, resources and financial planning to help strengthen sustainable business growth for minority entrepreneurs. The program and support are available to all minority entrepreneurs whether they bank with Chase or not.
Owners, Celia and Joe Ward-Wallace, who are bankers with Chase, say the inspiration of South LA Cafe was two-fold, “It was around entrepreneurship, social justice, and community building,” Celia said. The two agreed that they shared a responsibility as business owners in the community. In planning for their business, the two unearthed their mission. “If we’re going to invest in a space, this needs to be a community space. We know what we can do in this community, we live here. We know what the people need. We don’t have access to fresh, healthy, affordable food. We don’t have access to safe spaces for Black and Brown and lower economic people.” Throughout the pandemic, South LA Cafe has endured by offering healthy and affordable food options in the community.
Also present at the ribbon cutting event was Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, executive director of Local Initiatives Support Corporation of Los Angeles (LISC LA), where she oversees a small business ecosystem that provides access to capital and entrepreneurial education to small businesses owned by women and people of color operating in key sectors across South Los Angeles.
“It’s really exciting to be back here on Crenshaw, to be in this branch, and to see what a beautiful job they’ve done with this facility. This is a wonderful testament to what community and banking can do together” said Thrash-Ntuk, who leads the LISC LA ASCEND program, a coalition of partners with collective experience in increasing financial education, creating opportunities for underrepresented businesses, and providing capital and network connections to underserved business communities. “Today, I had a chance to talk about the LISC LA ASCEND program, an initiative that really supports small business in our community to help make sure they get access to markets, managing expertise, as well as money to run their businesses. I know when I grew up and I’d walk into a bank, it felt like a place where I didn’t belong. There was no place for me to sit; I didn’t know quite what to do. A branch like this where they’re going to have lounge space, community tables and hosts events, it becomes a bank that is more welcoming to the community.”
Longtime customers of the Crenshaw branch will discover a completely redesigned branch that looks and feels different from a “typical” bank – it combines a modern design, layout, and state-of-the-art banking technology, reflecting how customers engage with Chase today. Employees welcome customers in casual meeting spaces with soft-seating in booths and couches, emphasizing a more consultative approach, offering self-service transaction areas including a digital access bar and smart ATMs.
Other unique features include pop-up space to showcase local small businesses – especially those without a storefront – to highlight their products and services. Art featuring local artists is also integrated into the branch design.
The branch includes a full-time Community Manager, a new role created by the bank. Jordan King, who holds this role for the Crenshaw Community Center, will engage the community and businesses to increase awareness of available resources, and help connect them with financial health tools, and products and services. King’s role will include establishing free interactive programs on topics such as budget building, home buying tips, how to fund a small business and others.
“Our new Community Center in the Crenshaw District reaffirms our commitment to helping the community continue to grow and achieve its full economic potential. Many economic shortcomings can arise by a lack of financial literacy training afforded to people living in underserved communities. Chase is opening community branches like this one because we know that we have to be here, on-the-ground, empowering the people,” said King.