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Financial Inclusion Challenge

The Wall Street Journal Financial Inclusion Challenge

(Reposted from the Wall Street Journal.)

HOPE was chosen winner of the 2018 Wall Street Journal Financial Inclusion Challenge during an awards dinner and final judging round in New York City on May 9.

Based in Jackson, Miss., HOPE operates a credit union and other services for impoverished communities in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.

A panel of independent judges selected HOPE, Oportun, and Propel as finalists in the challenge, sponsored by MetLife Foundation. It is part of an initiative to highlight the struggles that millions of Americans face in attaining financial security.

Learn more about the finalists and judges below, and see a series of video reports on how financial insecurity impacts low- and moderate income people in the U.S.



HOPE (Hope Credit Union, Hope Enterprise Corporation and Hope Policy Center) is a Jackson, Miss.,-based family of organizations dedicated to strengthening communities, building assets, and improving lives in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee, one of the nation’s most impoverished regions. HOPE achieves its mission by providing affordable financial services, leveraging private, public and philanthropic resources, and engaging in policy analysis to address a range of areas that affect economic mobility, including jobs, education, healthcare, housing and food access. Since it began operations in 1994, HOPE has generated over $2 billion in financing that has benefitted more than 1 million people.

Bill Bynum – Chief Executive Officer, HOPE

photo of Bill Bynum

Mr. Bynum provides leadership to HOPE in the fulfillment of its mission, and oversees the development and implementation of its strategic plan. Prior to joining HOPE in 1994, Mr. Bynum helped establish nationally respected programs at Self-Help and the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center. He serves on the boards of the Aspen Institute, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Prosperity Now, Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation and is a member of the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty. Mr. Bynum previously chaired the CFPB Consumer Advisory Board, and the Treasury Department’s Community Development Advisory Board. A recipient of the University of North Carolina Distinguished Alumnus Award, his honors include the Aspen Global Leadership Network John P. McNulty Prize; CUNA Herb Wegner Award; OFN Ned Gramlich Award; NFCDCU Annie Vamper Award; AACUC Pete Crear Lifetime Achievement Award; National Rural Assembly Rural Hero Award; and Ernst & Young/Kauffman Foundation National Entrepreneur of the Year.


Propel is a software company that aims to make America’s safety net more user-friendly. Its free app, Fresh EBT, enables food stamp participants to manage their benefits, save money, and earn extra income. Fresh EBT is used by over a million families across the country each month, and a study with Harvard Business School showed that using Fresh EBT helps families avoid one day of extreme hunger per month. Fresh EBT generates revenue by connecting its users with opportunities to improve their financial health – whether that’s a grocery coupon, an introduction to a local nonprofit, or a new job. The app has garnered over 12,000 five-star reviews. Propel’s investors include Andreessen Horowitz, the Omidyar Network, and Kevin Durant. Propel is based in Brooklyn, NY.

Jimmy Chen – Chief Executive Officer, Propel

photo of Jimmy ChenJimmy Chen is the founder and chief executive officer of Propel. Previously, Mr. Chen was a product manager at Facebook, where he led the Facebook Groups team. During his tenure, the Facebook Groups product grew to be used by over 600 million people across the world. Before that, he was a product manager at LinkedIn. Mr. Chen started Propel to apply Silicon Valley’s technology playbook towards addressing the daily challenges of poverty, with the belief that the tech sector should be doing more to solve problems for people at every end of the socioeconomic spectrum. Mr. Chen has a BS in symbolic systems from Stanford University


Oportun is a San Carlos, Calif., Community Development Financial Institution with a mission of providing personal loans that help people with little or no credit history establish credit and build a better future. Oportun uses advanced data analytics and technology to provide affordable loans to individuals other lenders consider ‘unscoreable.’ The company calculates each applicant’s ability to repay, approves loans it believes can be repaid, and sets amounts and terms to fit customer budgets. Customer accounts are reported to two nationwide credit bureaus to help customers establish credit history. Oportun has disbursed more than $5 billion through 2+ million loans and helped nearly half a million people establish credit history for the first time. According to research commissioned by Oportun and conducted by the Center for Financial Services Innovation, customers have saved more than $1.1 billion by choosing an Oportun loan instead of alternatives widely available to people with limited credit history.

Raul Vazquez – Chief Executive Officer, Oportun

photo of Raul Vazquez OportunRaul Vazquez is the chief executive officer of Oportun, a financial technology company that leverages advanced data analytics and technology to provide affordable loans that help people with little or no credit history establish credit and build a better future. Mr. Vazquez came to Oportun after nearly nine years at Walmart in various senior leadership roles, including EVP and President of Walmart West, and CEO of Walmart.com. He previously worked at e-commerce start-up companies, at a global strategy consulting firm, and as an industrial engineer for Baxter Healthcare. Mr. Vazquez is a member of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s community advisory board and the immediate past chair of the Federal Reserve Board’s community advisory council. He also serves on the board of Intuit Inc. Mr. Vazquez is a graduate of Stanford University with BS and MS degrees in industrial engineering, and earned an MBA at the University of Pennsylvania.


WSJ’s Financial Inclusion Challenge Winner: Hope Credit Union

The Wall Street Journal’s first Financial Inclusion Challenge in the U.S. concluded with three finalists facing a panel of judges to answer questions about the impact and sustainability of their work. Hope Credit Union, based in Jackson, Miss., received the evening’s top honors for its efforts to provide banking services in underserved regions of the American South. Video/Photo: Clara Ritger for The Wall Street Journal



Based in San Carlos, Calif., Oportun is a community development financial institution whose aim is to help people with little to no credit history get affordable loans and build a credit history. The organization is one of three finalists in The Wall Street Journal’s 2018 Financial Inclusion Challenge.



Brooklyn-based Propel designed a smartphone app called Fresh EBT​ — available in all 50 states — that makes it easier for people to check their food-stamp balances. The company is one of three finalists in The Wall Street Journal’s 2018 Financial Inclusion Challenge.



Hope Credit Union, based in Jackson, Miss., is one of the only banks serving the Delta region, where communities have a historic distrust of the financial industry and many banks have shuttered branches. Hope is one of three finalists in The Wall Street Journal’s 2018 Financial Inclusion Challenge.



More than 30 million full-time workers don’t have access to a retirement plan at their workplace, nor do millions of part-time or independent contractors. Oregon is among five states in the country now requiring employers to automatically enroll workers in a Roth IRA retirement savings plan. Employees can opt out, but if too many do, the plans could fail.



When disaster strikes, having a safety net like flood insurance, a stable income, or savings can mean the difference between getting back on your feet, and living every day among the wreckage. We profile two families in Houston still recovering from Hurricane Harvey six months after the storm.



For an increasing number of Americans, a patchwork of gig work is the norm, while others have become so-called independent workers because they take second jobs through digital platforms like Uber or Etsy to make ends meet. But nearly all face the challenges of inconsistent income and access to benefits.



For small businesses in Philadelphia and across the country, getting capital to operate or expand can be costly as traditional banks are often reluctant to extend small loans or work with risky new ventures. Enter online lenders, which typically approve loans quickly but also carry high annual percentage rates with tough payback terms.



In Trenton, Tenn., and similar rural communities around the country, many residents are underinsured or uninsured and struggle with medical costs, often forgoing care. This burdens local hospitals, which in turn close or scale back care, putting patients at risk.



Student debt in the U.S. has reached record levels, making higher education out of reach for many people. In New York City, a program called ASAP is gaining national attention for helping students earn a college degree and escape the burden of loans they would struggle to repay.



Many families in Tchula, Miss., struggle to make ends meet with a patchwork of jobs and high-interest loans. Community leaders and the town’s only bank try to help, but the cycle of despair isn’t easily broken.



Across the country, Americans’ financial stability is strained, with unsteady incomes and record levels of debt creating gaps in financial inclusion and pushing traditional milestones out of reach. Image: Sara Haralson

The Judges

PHOTO: Kristen Berman

Kristen Berman

Common Cents Lab & Irrational Labs

Kristen Berman studies how people actually act in the marketplace, as opposed to how they should or would perform if they were completely rational. Ms. Berman is a co-founder and principal at Common Cents Lab, a Duke University initiative dedicated to improving the financial well-being of low- to middle-income Americans. She is also co-founder of Irrational Labs, which helps organizations understand and leverage behavioral economics to increase their users’ health, wealth and happiness. She was on the founding team of Google’s behavioral economics group at Google and hosts the behavioral change conference, StartupOnomics. She is co-author of the workbook series “Hacking Human Nature for Good: A practical guide to changing behavior” with Irrational Labs co-founder Dan Ariely, and has given talks at companies and organizations including the World Bank, Facebook, and Expedia.

PHOTO: Camille Busette

Camille Busette

Brookings Race, Prosperity, & Inclusion Initiative

Camille Busette is director of the Brookings Institution Race, Prosperity, and Inclusion Initiative. Prior to Brookings, Dr. Busette has held executive positions at the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, EARN, PayPal, and Intuit. Dr. Busette holds a B.A. in political science from the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago.

PHOTO: Damon Jones

Damon Jones

Harris School of Public Policy

Damon Jones is an associate professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. He conducts research at the intersection of three fields within economics: public finance, household finance, and behavioral economics. His research topics include income tax policy, social security, retirement and retirement savings, the interaction between employer-provided benefits and labor market outcomes, and universal basic income. Dr. Jones was a postdoctoral fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research and is a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Dr. Jones received a Ph.D. in economics from the University of California, Berkeley, and holds a B.A. in public policy with a minor in African and African-American Studies from Stanford University.

PHOTO: Dean Karlan

Dean Karlan

Innovations for Poverty Action

Dean Karlan is the Frederic Esser Nemmers distinguished professor of economics and finance and co-director of the Global Poverty Research Lab, Buffett Institute at Northwestern University. His research focuses on development and behavioral economics, typically using experimental methods to examine questions about poverty and behavior modification. Previously he was a professor at Yale University and Princeton University. Dr. Karlan is founder of Innovations for Poverty Action; co-founder of stickK.com; co-founder of ImpactMatters, and a board member of the M.I.T. Jameel Poverty Action Lab. He has co-authored four books: “More Than Good Intentions,” “Economics,” “Failing in the Field,’ and “The Goldilocks Challenge.” He received a Ph.D. in economics from M.I.T., an M.B.A. and an M.P.P. from the University of Chicago, and a B.A. in International Affairs from the University of Virginia.

PHOTO: Tracy Palandjian

Tracy Palandjian

Social Finance

Tracy Palandjian is co-founder and CEO of Social Finance, a nonprofit organization leading the development of Pay for Success financing and Social Impact Bonds, a public-private partnership that mobilizes capital to drive social progress. Previously, Ms. Palandjian was a managing director at The Parthenon Group and also worked at Wellington Management Co. and McKinsey & Co. She is co-author of “Investing for Impact: Case Studies Across Asset Classes” and serves as vice chair for the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance and the Board of Overseers at Harvard University, and on the boards of Facing History and Ourselves and the Surdna Foundation. She is a director of Affiliated Managers Group. A native of Hong Kong, Ms. Palandjian graduated from Harvard College with a B.A. in economics and holds an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School, where she was a Baker Scholar.

PHOTO: Dan Schulman

Dan Schulman


As president and CEO of PayPal, Dan Schulman is focused on transforming financial services to make life easier for people worldwide. Mr. Schulman previously served as group president of enterprise growth at American Express where he led global strategy to expand its alternative mobile and online payment services. Previously, Mr. Schulman was president of the prepaid group at Sprint Nextel Corp. following its acquisition of Virgin Mobile USA Inc., where he was its founding CEO. Earlier in his career, Mr. Schulman was president and CEO of Priceline Group Inc. He began his career at AT&T, ultimately serving as president of the consumer markets division. Mr. Schulman is the recipient of the 2017 Brennan legacy award and was named one of the world’s top 10 CEOs by Fortune. He serves on the boards of Flextronics and Symantec.

PHOTO: Darren Walker

Darren Walker

Ford Foundation

Darren Walker is president of the Ford Foundation, an international social justice philanthropy with a $13 billion endowment and $600 million in annual grant making. For two decades, he has been a leader in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. Mr. Walker led the philanthropy committee that helped bring a resolution to the city of Detroit’s historic bankruptcy, and chairs the U.S. Alliance on Impact Investing. He co-chairs New York City’s Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers, and serves on the Commission on the Future of Riker’s Island Correctional Institution and the U.N. International Labor Organization Commission on the Future of Work. He also serves on the boards of Carnegie Hall and the High Line, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Judges’ views mentioned on this page and in other materials connected to the Challenge belong to them exclusively, and do not necessarily reflect the views of their employers.


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