Question: How do you educate an 80-year-old woman living in a low- income community on the basics of electronic banking?
Answer: With time and patience.
That was the conclusion of four panelists at a recent forum on "Electronic Banking in Low-Income Neighborhoods" at New York University's School of Law.
The panelists included executives from Citicorp and North Fork Bancorp, a $5.8 billion-asset bank based in Melville, N.Y.
The discussion centered on the advent of new banking technologies amid the disappearance of traditional branches.
Joseph E. Vincent, a panelist and senior vice president at North Fork, which has seven branches in the Bronx, said the challenge is getting low- income people to understand the nature of electronic banking.
"It's up to the local community groups to pull the banks in and be more aggressive and commit to do it," Mr. Vincent said.
"Technology isn't just about computers, but a change in behavior," he added.
Panelist Wendy Takahisa, who handles Community Reinvestment Act issues and community relations for Citibank, said electronic deposit of payroll and Social Security checks reduces bank expenses and makes transactions easier and safer.
"Branches are not disappearing, but some of the roles of branches are disappearing," Ms. Takahisa said. She said Citibank has helped educate consumers in electronic banking technologies, even in their native languages.
"We no longer have to staff (bilingual) employees at the actual branches if they can be reached by our telephone banking staff at any time," Ms. Takahisa said.
However, the two nonbanker panelists said banks are not doing enough to educate low-income people about using ATMs, phones, and personal computers for banking transactions. They said the lack of traditional branches in low-income neighborhoods has driven many people to use high-cost check- cashing operations and loan sharks.
April Tyler, Democratic district leader for West Harlem, said her populous neighborhood has 24 check-cashing businesses but only 11 bank branches.
"There are some alternatives, like church-based credit unions," Ms. Tyler said, but most people in the area use check-cashing establishments. She added that in the past 10 years five local bank branches had closed and eight check-cashing businesses had been established.
One of the panelists, David D. Troutt, an associate professor of law at Rutgers University in Newark, N.J., pointed out that making bank records accessible electronically has caused low-income people to worry about their privacy.
"When you remove personal interaction with bankers, you make a tremendous assumption that these consumers are literate, English-speaking, and computer-trained," said Mr. Troutt.
"There is also an obligation to make low-income consumers financially literate, not only computer literate," he said.