As Prepared for Delivery.
It is an honor and privilege to be here today as we focus our energy on empowering the poor and the underserved.
In April, I was sworn in as Chairman of the National Credit Union Administration, the regulator of federally insured credit unions, which serve 116.2 million members and have more than $1.4 trillion in assets. My primary responsibility is the industry’s safety and soundness. But where appropriate, I want to encourage the financial services industry to take reform-minded steps that better meet the needs of the communities and citizens we serve.
A good place to start would be extending “second chance” opportunities to job applicants with old criminal records for minor, non-violent offenses. It is hard to estimate accurately the number of Americans with criminal records, but one commonly cited number is 70 million—roughly one in three people. A great many of these Americans face barriers to hiring that leave them unemployed or underemployed.
Fortunately, policymakers and corporate leaders have begun to rethink these punitive hiring practices. I say it is about time, and the financial services industry can and should play even more of a leading role in welcoming these individuals back into the mainstream of American life.
I understand there are some particular sensitivities. For instance, it would be difficult to make the case for a job applicant with a past financial crime that would undermine customer trust. However, we should not be afraid to give people a second chance if they have made a good faith effort to rehabilitate themselves and have paid their debt to society.
The NCUA Board is making a concerted effort to provide second chances where we can. Under the law, anyone convicted of a crime involving dishonesty or breach of trust may not work at a credit union or bank unless he or she first obtains a waiver.
Since I became Chairman, we approved an employment waiver for a woman who has a criminal record. But she paid her debt to society, rehabilitated herself, and has no further history of criminal behavior. A drug addiction from nearly 25 years ago will not hold her back from working for a federally insured credit union.
I am grateful that my fellow Board Members and I were able to grant her request, and we recognize and appreciate the hard work she has put into turning her life around. She, like so many other Americans, deserved a second chance.
Not only should we find ways to bring those with low-level criminal records out of the shadows, but also we have a responsibility to bring more people into the financial mainstream by improving access to safe and affordable financial services. This includes the disabled, the disadvantaged, the underserved, and those that reside in our rural and low-to-moderate income communities.
The NCUA is committed to fulfilling the Federal Credit Union Act’s purpose of making more credit available to people of limited means, and I have challenged the NCUA’s senior leadership to find new ways to expand access to affordable financial services.
I am also working with the NCUA’s Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion and Credit Union Resources and Expansion to ensure that we are doing everything we can to support small, low-income designated, and minority credit unions. For example, beginning June 2, low-income credit unions can apply for nearly $2 million in grant funding for training, underserved outreach, digital services and financial education certifications. Grant initiatives can help these vital institutions provide more services to our most underserved areas.
While the NCUA can do its part, the credit union system must work together to address this issue as well. This will require new ways of thinking, partnerships with groups like Operation Hope, and investments in technology to meet the needs of the underserved.
Giving millions of Americans with minor criminal records a second chance and addressing the lack of those with access to a financial services system will require all of us to work together.
I look forward to working collectively with you on these important issues.