Below is an excerpt from Emily DiVito’s remarks at the February 22, 2024, public hearing for the CalAccount Blue Ribbon Commission. 

Full, free, and fair access to the money you own, and the financial systems in which it can be safely stored, is necessary to achieve economic security. But America’s current banking and payments system is fee-based, creating a tiered economy where millions of individuals and families are pushed out of the formal banking sector and toward predatory nonbank alternatives—like check cashers, payday lenders, and nonbank financial technology companies.

In 2022, we sent canvassers to 106 bank branches across California. During each visit to a bank branch, canvassers sought information about the bank’s lowest-cost accounts.

The study aimed to answer the basic question, “what happens when a prospective customer walks into a physical bank branch looking for service?” Are basic, low-cost financial products available at convenient locations? And, most importantly, are prospective customers—especially those who are low-income, Black and brown, and/or Spanish-speaking—able to access them?

In sum, the survey found a troubling prevalence of overdraft-fee-based accounts, a reticence on the part of bank staff to disclose cheaper alternatives even when they existed, and race and language disparities in access to information and equal treatment while banking.