Barry G. Simmons (courtesy photo)

JP Morgan Chase wants to be more than your local bank.  Their mission, according to California Divisional Director Barry Simmons, is to be a valued community member that is deeply vested in economic sustainability of your neighborhood.

With more than 1,00 branches under his charge, Simmons aims to transform that mission into reality through a range of free programs offered by Chase that cover topics such as financial literacy, career development and youth mentorship.

“In my role managing all of our branches and our wealth management team, we are 100 percent committed to financial education and literacy. We have a social responsibility to give back to communities where we work and serve and live,” explained Simmons, who has more than 20 years of experience in banking.

“We have an opportunity to open the doors of the branches and to bring the community members in and start to teach them about finances – how to save, how to improve your credit, how to apply for loans and making sure they’re prepared to do that.”

Simmons and Chase staff gather in a teamwork huddle. (photo courtesy of JP Morgan Chase)

Through a forum called Chase Chats, the bank’s branches across Southern California will host financial education sessions on various subjects, from Chase products and services to mobile banking.  To reach as many people as possible, the institution has also partnered with several nonprofits and the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall to present similar gatherings at their facilities.

While Simmons hopes to meet the needs of existing clients, he also wants to prepare young people for financial understanding and success.  To meet that objective, Chase united with Junior Achievement of Southern California to give classroom presentations to students as well as schedule site visits to branches to give youth a behind-the-scenes tour.

Chase also connects with youth through The Fellowship Initiative, an intensive academic and leadership training to help young men of color from economically-distressed communities complete their high school education and prepare to excel in colleges and universities.

“We give them resources, tools, support and mentorship so they can start to truly develop and grow in ways that, more than likely, they probably wouldn’t have had the advantage or opportunity to without the assistance,” said Simmons, who added that JPMorgan Chase employees work with TFI Fellows as mentors, coaches, role models, speakers and volunteers.

“The beauty of all of this is that students start to learn about banking at an early age,” Simmons said.  “Once they start to learn, they bring that back to their parents and their parents start to be educated and interested in what they’re children are learning and the family unit as a whole starts to learn.”

In fact, Simmons’ interest in banking occurred as a youngster.  His father, a corporate executive, was the first Black director of finance for the city of New Orleans.  Growing up, Simmons was fascinated by both his dad’s profession and interactions at work.

“My father was my greatest inspiration. Watching him start his day, take the briefcase to work and come home each day and tell us some of the conversations he had and how you had to work with others as a team, I think that was something that intrigued me. I always wanting to be part of a team,” recalled Simmons. “There’s no ‘I’ in team as we all know. But, I think that’s what got me excited about the corporate world.”

Barry Simmons, center, and the Chase team at the 2018 Taste of Soul Family Festival. (photo courtesy of JP Morgan Chase)

Despite being a corporate executive, Simmons remains concerned about financial stability for all people and communities, especially those in underserved areas.  Fortunately, his concern matches up perfectly with his passion for financial education and literary, and it also fuels his excitement for a new Chase program – Advancing Black Pathways (ABP) – emphasizing wealth, education and careers in Black communities.  The objective, as stated in the official brochure, “is to develop solutions that will yield the greatest tangible benefits, including improved quality of life and economic resilience.”

“We’re trying to ensure that our community has access much earlier on in life.  We want to make sure our community understands home ownership, education and careers,” Simmons said. “Many people don’t think that they have an opportunity to work in a bank or have a career in a bank.  They think all they can do is a teller job.

“That’s a great entry point, but helping to create opportunities and avenues for success in others – which I’ve been very fortunate to do throughout my career – is where I get the most joy.  Seeing people surge and grow in their careers and ultimately, make others better and pay that forward.  In the long run, we should see some significant improvement and opportunities for people,” he insisted.

As with the previously mentioned initiatives, Chase will collaborate with local agencies and businesses to advance ABP’s goals.  Already, the bank has joined with Bakewell Media’s Taste of Soul Family Festival as part of the campaign. Simmons, who has known the Bakewell family for several years, noted that the company’s long history of community involvement is very compatible with Chase’s focus.

“There’s no doubt that Danny Bakewell, Sr., is the ultimate collaborator.  His team brings people together to discuss challenging issues and find resolutions that we (Chase) want to be a part of.  Chase and Bakewell Media have such similarities, so it’s a natural relationship that we look forward to continuing and expanding upon,” said Simmons.

“We, at JP Morgan Chase, want our community to understand that we’re here for them, our doors are open and we’re here to provide the education and knowledge to support everyone’s endeavors.”