nonprofit organization to offer savings accounts to people who have never done business with a bank. The company, the parent of Bank of Hawaii, has agreed to match some of the funds that low-income customers deposit in the new Individual Development Accounts. So far only $5,000 has been earmarked for such contributions, but more will be added as the program expands, the bank said. "Our hope is the people who get these accounts become better established financially and eventually become profitable customers in the bank," said Kelly K. Walsh, vice president and Community Reinvestment Act officer at the $14.6 billion-asset bank. "And as the biggest bank in Hawaii, we view it as our responsibility." Another motive, Pacific Century said, was to help low-income people receive government benefit checks electronically. The first to sign up for the new accounts were 20 residents of a public housing project in Kalihi, who did so in mid-December. The no-minimum-deposit, no-fee accounts, which were offered through a nonprofit family services agency, were established to help depositors save for down payments on homes, for vocational training, or to start small businesses. The agency provides financial counseling and entrepreneurial advice. Once an account holder reaches a goal set with its help, the agency will match that amount with money donated by Pacific Century. Community activists praised the program, adding that banks are looking to development accounts as a way to promote homeownership and build a loyal and potentially profitable customer base. Robert Gnaizda, general counsel of the San Francisco-based Greenlining Institute, said his organization is working with several financial institutions interested in starting development account programs. They include Union Bank of California and Merrill Lynch & Co., Mr. Gnaizda said. "Banks see this as an attention-getting opportunity to build a firm customer base among groups who historically have shunned banks," Mr. Gnaizda said.
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