Category Archives: Financial Services

Brain Bugs, Behavior & Boehner

In his book Brain Bugs: How the Brain’s Flaws Shape Our Lives neuroscientist Dean Buonomano gives some fascinating reasons for why our memory, beliefs and behavior are subject to serious flaws…even if we’re unaware of it.  Simply put, our brain evolved for a different time and place.  He uses the example of a skunk’s effective defense mechanism: When attacked they turn around, lift their tails and spray.  Very effective for scaring off a coyote, not so much against an oncoming car.

It’s somewhat comforting to know that there’s an evolutionary bias (i.e. I can’t help it) for eating naughty food and blowing my budget when I know these behaviors aren’t helpful.  So my brain’s operating system is outdated. Is there an upgrade?

Luckily there is: behavioral priming.  Buonomano cites an NYU study using word puzzles to illustrate how we create “behavior nodes”.  In the study,  subjects were asked to complete word puzzles.  Some had to come up with words associated with kindness while others had puzzles with words biased toward being rude.  After finishing this task, subjects were told to talk to a research assistance pretending to be on the phone.  In measuring how long each subject waited before interrupting the on-going phone conversation, it was found that those who completed puzzles using more rude words waited less time to interrupt the phone conversation.

If the words, images, and sounds surrounding us constantly influence our thoughts and actions,  what are we subjecting ourselves to on a regular basis?

How often are we bombarded with images of war, famine and Beohner?

More importantly, how do we prime our brains to turn it off without turning away?

How Earning More Keeps You Poor

191,000 kids live in poverty in Colorado


Why can’t poor people just “get a job”?  Hell, they get food stamps, free child care, tax credits, welfare checks…what else could they need?

I’ve heard variations of this question; truthfully,  I used to ask it myself.  What I failed to recognize (and now try to increase awareness of) is the unintentional negative affect of the 1996 welfare reform laws: the Cliff Effect.  Consider the real-life scenario of Shari (not her real name):

Shari began working at McDonald’s 15 months ago.  She is eligible for a raise, yet she refuses to ask for one or accept any promotions that McDonald’s may offer. If Shari got even a 75-cents-per-hour raise, it would trigger a cut in food stamps, childcare assistance, and medical assistance. She cannot afford to earn a little more. In order to escape poverty, Shari must earn considerably more. Like others in poverty, Shari is often stuck in survival mode, unable to imagine a better future and trapped without the support systems that families who are middle or upper class take for granted. It feels impossible for Shari to plan for the future or make long-term decisions because she is dealing with today’s crises.

Shari’s work supports are supposed to provide her family a means for climbing out of poverty.  These include the minimum wage, the Earned Income Tax Credit, the child tax credit,  food stamps, health insurance, and child care.  But as Shari’s earnings increase, she begins to lose these benefits, negating any increases in income. The result? Hard-working individuals climbing to reach the American Dream of prosperity end up falling off the cliff…back into poverty.

Just another Shari

We’ve all seen Shari:  at the Wal-Mart checkout counter, at the bus stop, waiting on us at McDonalds.  And we think, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”  Is that it?  Do we stop there?  Or, do we wonder, “Is there anything I can do?”

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” ~ Mother Teresa.

¿Cómo Se Dice Philanthrocapitalism?

Classroom instruction

Mi Casa Resource Center, a Denver non-profit with a 35-year history of advancing the economic success of Latinos, has found an ingenious way to support the benefits of economic development and diversity in their community while providing financial institutions a means to build market share among Latino consumers.

Now in its third year, Mi Casa’s Bilingual Bank Teller program trains students fluent in English and Spanish for a career in the financial sector. During the five-week training course, individuals learn banking products and services, transaction processing, sales and customer service.  A career coach assists with resume-writing, practicing interview and networking skills and conducting online job searches.

Practicing with Cash Drawer

Mi Casa graduates currently employed at Wells Fargo, FirstBank, Key Bank, Charles Schwab and TCF Bank have seen hourly wage increases of 150%.  Health insurance and tuition reimbursement are additional benefits for which they may qualify.

Achieving full-time employment with a career path and a establishing a means of building assets is critical to a growing and influential Latino community who represent an important component of the economy.  According to Denver newspaper, La Voz Nueva, Latinos account for over 35 percent of the Denver Metro population. In disposable income, Denver Latinos rank as the 8th largest market in the nation.

However, research shows cultural and language barriers can limit access to traditional financial services which means many Latinos rely on payday loan and check cashing institutions for banking needs.  The Denver Office of Economic Development reports Denver residents spent $26 million on payday loan and check cashing fees in 2006. The average full-time worker not accessing a bank or credit union will spend $40,000 in his or her lifetime just to turn wages into cash.

With support from the Denver Office of Economic Development, JP Morgan Chase Foundation, Wells Fargo Foundation and Sara Lee Foundation, Mi Casa’s Bilingual Bank Teller program trains bilingual individuals to provide excellent financial customer service in Spanish and English.  By opening a bank account,  direct deposit and a no-fee savings account, individuals avoid predatory lending fees and can increase savings.  See Bank On Denver’s Savings Calculator to see how much can be saved!

In October 2010, Mi Casa’s Bilingual Bank Teller program’s success was recognized by the National Council of La Raza at its annual workforce conference, ¡Listo! Preparing Latinos Workers for the New Economy, in Chicago, IL. During this event, many non-profits across the United States learned how to develop their own bilingual bank teller programs.

Mi Casa's Bilingual Bank Teller Graduates

Additional programs would help communities build social and financial capital through increased employment and savings while banks further develop a diverse workforce necessary for attracting new customers.  The result?  An excellent example of the philanthrocapitalistic, “do well while doing good” philosophy in action!