START, New Haven’s community-development bank, is closing one of its two retail locations.
The branch, on Grand Avenue in Fair Haven, will close July 1, according to Executive Vice-President John DeStefano (pictured at a 2013 press conference announcing his pending appointment to the bank).
Bank President Maureen Frank “and I came in here in January. We just started looking at everyting, what we were doing and evaluating it. Customers were just not using it,” DeStefano said Thursday. He said the Fair Haven branch had about 800 accounts, 300 of them with under $10; the numbers have declined for two years.
The bank notified the account holders back in April about the pending closure. Since then only about 25 accounts have closed, DeStefano said; the rest will be transferred to the bank’s branch at Whalley and Sherman Avenues, which will remain open. Both branches opened in December of 2010.
“Rather than spend money on overhead, we’d rather be lending,” DeStefano said.
START is a for-profit subsidiary of a not-for-profit corporation set up to boost urban lending, encourage young people to save money, and give the “unbanked” and low-income workers alternatives to cash-checking outlets and other predatory institutions. The corporation was created as part of a state-brokered settlement to allow the former New Haven Savings Bank to go public and become NewAlliance (now First Niagara). DeStefano, then New Haven’s mayor, helped lead the fight against the New Haven Savings conversion that resulted in the creation of START.
Asked about what lessons can be drawn from the Fair Haven closure, DeStefano said the bank is moving in a more specialized retail direction—“working much more with social-justice, neighborhood-based and advocacy organizations” like Columbus House, Emerge and Solar Youth. “We are probably migrating more toward working with specialized populations and core groups—homeless, young people, [prison] reentry, documented [immigrants], undocumented—at the same time we are seeing demand for a small-business bank.”