With the holiday season upon us, most U.S. consumers are creating gift lists and hitting the store aisles. However, this time of year proves more financially challenging than cheerful for a significant portion of the population. Despite economic growth and the availability of online financial services, nearly 27% of U.S. households remain unbanked or underbanked, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Additionally, even though the poverty rate in the U.S. is slowly improving, the general cost of living it is still a problem in many areas of the country – including Georgia and Texas, home to two of Netspend’s national offices.
To better understand the personal challenges that come with having limited financial options, 20-year-old Netspend skips the traditional year-end holiday party and spends the budget on a pay-it-forward initiative. Employees, partners and guests “walk in the shoes” of their customers through the annual Community Connect Giving Day.
In its ninth year, Community Connect benefited Netspend’s hometown of Austin, Texas and sister offices in Alpharetta, Georgia, San Mateo, California, and New Delhi, India. Many residents local to these areas must overcome expensive, time-consuming and frustrating logistical hurdles to manage the financial burdens of everyday life. Community Connect is designed to highlight those hurdles, bringing awareness to how community neighbors often struggle to cover daily expenses, commute to their jobs or manage fundamental aspects of family life – let alone provide for their families and friends during the holiday season.
Netspend Takes to the Streets of Austin
This year’s Community Connect was held on Thursday, November 21st across a number of local neighborhoods. In just 8 hours, over 400 Netspend team members gifted unsuspecting Austin residents over $30,000 to help cover groceries, gas, bills, meals and other household expenses, as well as pay for complete Thanksgiving family celebrations.
“For nearly a decade, Community Connect has been a proud, and impactful, annual Netspend tradition. By forgoing a typical holiday party for team members, we instead come together and celebrate in this unique way – by giving back to Austinites and the community we’ve called home for over 20 years. Our commitment to local and national philanthropic efforts is an integral part of the Netspend identity and at the heart of our culture and team engagement. Between this year’s event and our annual scholarship awards to Netspend cardholders, we have contributed, and fundraised, over $750,000 to the local community. It is such a fulfilling, meaningful and important experience, and we look forward to continuing this active engagement in our communities for years to come.” – Kelley Knutson, President, Netspend
Alpharetta Office Walks in their Customers’ Shoes
The Netspend team in Alpharetta took a new approach, and put their own local spin, on this year’s event. To better understand what day-to-day life is like on an extremely limited income, Netspend employees participated in an immersive experience. While many individuals understand poverty from a broader perspective, this workshop immersed volunteers in four 15-minute "weeks" to face a myriad of real-world obstacles. This allowed Netspend volunteers to embody the role of families looking to achieve financial stability and well-being. By design, the workshop revealed a deeper level of empathy for the financial difficulties customers face when trying to make ends meet. After walking in their customers’ shoes, Netspend team members were left with a better understanding of customers’ unique needs, inspiring them to develop better products and services moving forward.
In addition to what was donated to local residents during the annual Community Connect event, Netspend and its generous corporate partners, contributed enough donations to award $360,000 in scholarship funds to customers in need of tuition assistance for a variety of educational/practical certificates and experiences. The funds are intended to help recipients gain new skills through education so they can enhance their financial position and improve their overall lifestyle. These awards will provide more than 120 scholarships to worthy recipients around the country this coming year.
“This annual event has had a lasting, and deep-rooted, impact on Netspend team members, both personally and professionally, as well as for the Austin, San Mateo, Alpharetta and New Delhi, India residents we help every year. It’s important to recognize that these efforts extend beyond a single day. We hope to inspire and impact the community for years to come, creating a collective ‘do good’ attitude within our business and those of our partners.” – Vera Hinojosa, Community Connect Committee Head, NetspendThe event’s contributions are also made possible thanks to the generosity and support from Netspend’s top-tier partner sponsors such as Bancorp, Enacomm, InComm, Mastercard, MetaBank, National Association, Republic Bank and the CPI Card Group, along with countless other key sponsor contributors.