This month we recognize Jennifer Tescher as our GonzoBanker of the Month for her powerhouse launch and subsequent cultivation of the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) and her seemingly tireless efforts to make a difference in the lives of the underbanked.
Name: Jennifer Tescher
Official Title: Director, Center for Financial Services Innovation
Gonzo Title: Supreme Evangelist for the Underbanked
Jennifer worked as a journalist and planned to use her journalism skills to help the underserved. She began her banking career as an intern at ShoreBank in 1996, where she realized she could make a difference utilizing the clout of the financial services industry.
Alma Mater and Other Notables:
Jennifer received undergraduate and graduate degrees in journalism from Northwestern University and a Masters in Public Policy from the University of Chicago. She is a member of the board of Directors for both the Center for Economic Progress and the Credit Builders Alliance, and is a member of Bank of America’s National Community Advisory Council. (Rumor has it one of Jennifer’s children actually saw her sleeping last week, though the allegation at press time is unconfirmed.)
Gonzo Claim to Fame:
Jennifer was instrumental in taking CFSI from an incubator project originally funded in 2004 by the Ford Foundation to what it is today – a fully licensed, non-profit affiliate of ShoreBank. CFSI has become a unique resource that financial institutions, technology vendors, consumer advocates and policy makers turn to for ideas and tools for serving the growing underbanked community. A Gonzo organization with an admirable mission.
What’s been keeping Jennifer busy?
Jennifer believes the underbanked market presents a Gonzo opportunity for organic growth. “Unbanked consumers show themselves to be highly loyal customers,” she said. “If treated properly, I think these consumers are customers for life.” In an industry where loyalty can be lost with a 1/4 percent price move, bankers may wake up to this opportunity.
Jennifer also feels that prepaid cards are a great alternative for bringing underbanked individuals more fully into the financial services community – for example, through direct deposit arrangements.
Because a generic description of the underbanked individual doesn’t exist, developing market strategies can be very challenging for product and service providers. Jennifer has been involved with creating a nationally relevant segmentation of the underbanked market that will provide better data and help banks effectively target their efforts.
Other Successes at CFSI:
Under Jennifer’s directorship, in its short life span CFSI has achieved several notable successes:
What are the keys to success of CFSI’s efforts?
Because the underbanked frequently have checking accounts but also use alternatives to traditional financial institutions, such as check cashers and money remitters, Jennifer feels that to effectively reach this demographic requires the involvement of as many people and organizations as possible to provide products, services and education.
If you had to do it all over, what would you do differently?
“I would have brought on more staff earlier,” Jennifer said. “It’s really hard work!” We heard that!
Who would you like to give credit to for helping make this effort successful?
Jennifer acknowledges the Ford Foundation for starting the institute and providing funding. She also gives a great deal of credit to ShoreBank, which she feels is truly an amazing place, for provided the nurturing environment that allowed her and her staff to become successful. “I’ve been very lucky in surrounding myself with really smart people,” Jennifer observed. Lucky? Gonzo thinks not!
Is there any other entity that you would like to recognize?
Jennifer would like to acknowledge KeyBank as a pioneer among large banks for recognizing the opportunity to attract and serve the underbanked with nontraditional products, marketing and risk management techniques.
Claim to fame outside the office
Jennifer loves to hang out with her family. She also loves to travel. This summer she visited Singapore and is making plans to see South Africa next year. Gonzo undercover research also reveals that Jennifer has a bent for the adventurous. Besides travel to exotic locales, she has been known to practice rock climbing, kayaking and other “Gonzo-esque” activities.
If you were to change jobs, what would you like to do?
Jennifer would like to devote her energy to excessive executive compensation issues. Gonzo firmly believes that with her demonstrated energy level, Jennifer will be a force to be reckoned with if she decides to go this route.
Keep up the good work, Jennifer! As GonzoBanker of the month, Cornerstone is proud to donate $250 in Jennifer’s name to the Center for Economic Progress in Chicago.