On September 24th, 2019, Chase Bank opened its first community branch, that specifically interacts with the local community, in Harlem. Over the past year, it has played an important part in the Harlem Community giving loans to small businesses and people alike. The head of the community branch, Nichol King, has been a stalwart member of Harlem. She got her first taste of the neighborhood through a summer job at the age of fifteen, and eventually became enamored with the community, becoming a Harlem homeowner in 1999. Due to the branch’s involvement in Harlem, we decided to reach out to Nichol for an interview to discuss the branch.
- How did you choose Harlem for your first community branch?
Chase has been serving the Harlem community since the 1960s. Prior to becoming a branch the 55 West 125th location was the former headquarters of President Bill Clinton, and home to many local/government social services agencies.
The planning for a community branch started in late 2018. The goal was to reimagine how we could better support the community. To assist in the development, Chase executives hosted listening sessions with Harlem non-profit organizations, elected officials and business leaders to learn how Chase could fill resource and service gaps. During those meetings we found that Chase’s non-profit partners often times lacked meeting or networking space, for which we developed large rooms to hold gatherings.
Improving financial health for Harlemites is central to our mission and the space at 55 West 125th Street provided us the opportunity to effectively achieve this goal.
- What makes this branch unique and what can customers expect when it comes to service?
When you walk into the doors of our 55 West and 125th Street branch it won’t feel like a traditional bank branch. You’ll see artwork of our employees and prominent community members painted by Sandra Spannan of See.Studios. Additionally a table in one of the conference rooms is made out of the wood from the old Harlem Lanes.
What also makes this branch unique is my role. As community manager I’m the liaison between the community and the bank. My job is all about developing relationships with our local nonprofits.
However the pandemic has changed things a lot. To comply with New York State restrictions all in-person programing has been halted since March, and instead we’ve been able to offer our co-working spaces as a free WiFi hotspot for the community.
- How successful has the branch been in providing loans to the local Harlem community?
When we opened our doors in June of 2019 we announced a $550,000 commitment to Harlem non-profits and minority and women-owned businesses, with an emphasis on black-owned businesses as part of the firm’s $150 million Small Business Forward initiative. This investment included commitments to Start Small Think Big which helps entrepreneurs in need of resources develop market-ready products.
Our team of local bankers have gone above and beyond to support our neighbors during the pandemic including providing Paycheck Protection Payment (PPP) loans to more than 50,000 New York companies. We will continue to offer the tools and resources needed to help drive an inclusive recovery in the most recent round of stimulus funding.
More recently, the firm made a $30 billion commitment to help close the racial wealth gap especially for Black and LatinX people, and combat racism in our communities. This money is going directly into our products, services, branches and people to help more Black and LatinX customers get home and small business loans, bank accounts, and become more financially healthy.
- What makes your community branch stand out in a competitive market?
We see this community branch as a beacon of opportunity and access by providing consumers and business owners with financial tools to thrive. Our talented team of bankers also set us apart. Many of our team members live in Harlem and are deeply connected and committed to this community. I’ve lived in Harlem for more than 20 years and have a special kinship with this neighborhood.
What I love about this branch is the programing that Chase provides to our small businesses, who are the heart and soul of Harlem. Prior to the pandemic we hosted small business pop up shops in our front room with floor to ceiling windows.
Last summer we launched the Founders Forward Small Business Mentoring program. Studies show 70% of business owners who receive mentoring survive beyond five years and create on average, 3.2 jobs. Small businesses are growing fastest among people of color, particularly Latinas and African American women, yet access to technical assistance, networking and capital remains a challenge for this populations.
In conjunction with New York Professional Advisors for Community Entrepreneurs (NYPACE), a local NYC nonprofit that provides pro bono business consulting to entrepreneurs operating in under-resourced areas of New York, JPMorgan Chase is providing consulting services to women, minority and veteran-owned small businesses.
- Has the community branch increased access to loans and banking services for historically underserved neighborhoods?
Harlem is a diverse neighborhood and our branch is on the cutting edge when it comes to boosting opportunity and prosperity for those who have previously been left behind.
With our One Chase partners the branch has access to small business specialists to walk an entrepreneur through all of his or her options, and better understand how bankable their company is.
Chase’s home lending advisors can assist you with mortgage needs. There are also a variety of low down payment options through our DreaMaker program and Chase provides an additional $5,000 in housing assistance. If you’re a veteran there special programs through our Veterans Affairs commitments.
- Do you have plans for expanding the community branch model?
Yes. The Harlem community branch was a pilot, and a very successful one. Using learnings from our Harlem location, in September we opened the second community-inspired branch in Minneapolis’ Ventura Village.
By the end of 2021 we’ll have 14 community branches in traditionally underserved neighborhoods, there are plans to open community branches in Chicago (Stony Island), Los Angeles (Crenshaw), Detroit (Corktown), Houston (Lyons & Lockwood) and Washington D.C. (Skyland), among other cities.
Each new Community Center branch will have a dedicated Community Home Lending Advisor who will collaborate with local community organizations to offer free skills training, small business pop-up shops in branches, fintech innovation and live events, like Chase Chats, at no cost and open to everyone.
- What are your business outreach efforts – particularly when it comes to reaching disadvantaged communities?
A major part of my role as Community Manager is connecting with local businesses and community organizations to let them know we are here and we have the resources to help. I’ve been working in Harlem for more than twenty years in various banking roles.
Beyond my work at the branch, I regularly contribute to financial literacy seminars hosted by other local partners such as Women Trailblazing in Business, the Women In the Black Conference, and Economic Development Day for Harlem Week. I am always looking to expand my reach and bring more partners into our network. Please connect with me on Linked-In and say hi: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nichol-king-38023424/
It was a joy to learn more about the rich history and philanthropic efforts of the Chase and the new community branch. We hope that this new branch will be successful for years to come, to improve not only the lives of Harlemitesbut also the small businesses that make it so special.