THE BLOG
09/23/2013 09:15 am ET | Updated Nov 23, 2013

It's Time to Move Underserved Latinos Into the Financial Mainstream

Half of the 52 million Latinos living in the U.S. are financially underserved -- meaning that they have little or no access to traditional banking services. Left out of the financial mainstream, they rely on alternative financial services like check cashers, payday lenders and other high cost services. This is an economically unsustainable situation, and it's time to make a change.

On September 30, more than 4,000 people from across the country will convene in Washington, D.C. to join the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, and to attend CHCI's annual Public Policy Conference. I am honored to be among those participating in programs that confront the social and economic issues most relevant to Latino Americans today. As the National Chairman of Master Your Card: Oportunidad, a coalition dedicated to educating Latino communities about how to use electronic payment technologies to their advantage, my focus during this event will be increasing financial inclusion.

Latino families are financially underserved at nearly twice the national average. Failing to address this problem now will allow this financial disadvantage to snowball as the Latino population expands, trapping our children in a self-perpetuating cycle of financial wheel-spinning. It's imperative that we provide education and resources that demonstrate how using the right financial tools in the right way can facilitate entry into the financial mainstream -- because as the Latino community gets ahead, we all get ahead.

The population of Latino Americans is expected to reach more than 130 million by the year 2050. This translates to exponential growth in the base of Latino consumers, business owners and taxpayers contributing to the overall growth and output of the U.S. economy. Acting now to better include the Latino American community in the financial mainstream isn't just the right thing to do; it's also a tremendous opportunity for the American economy.

Many Latinos are unbanked by choice, because they distrust financial institutions -- but that doesn't mean they have to forego the benefits of modern financial technology. Payment products like prepaid cards, payroll cards, mobile wallets and more, enable people to shop and pay bills online or by phone, swipe a card at the point of sale and get cash back free of charge, receive wages through direct deposit, and conveniently transfer money between cards, even across borders -- all with lower cost, more convenience and greater security than using cash. And all of this is possible without a bank account, and without relying on alternative financial service providers.

By putting the right tools into the hands of unbanked and under-banked Latinos, and making sure they know how to use them to their advantage, we can provide a gateway to financial inclusion. And, by experiencing greater economic independence and success, Latino consumers will eventually gain the confidence to access additional financial resources and continue down the path to full financial inclusion for their families and future generations. This is a challenge with a clear solution. It's my hope that the Latino community comes together and acts now to make a difference for the financially underserved.

Fabian Nunez is the Master Your Card: Oportunidad National Chair and the former Speaker for the California Assembly