Florida International University

If you have a crisis of faith, you go to church for spiritual guidance.  Thanks to the effort of a local organization, your church may also help with your finances.

For more than six years, the Collective Banking Group of Miami-Dade and Vicinity has hosted financial workshops for South Florida church goers and helped them apply for home and business loans.
“We want to make life economically fair for people,” said The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis, the group's president and the pastor of the Church of the Open Door in Liberty City.  “We’re trying to save houses, lives and souls.”

The banking group is an organization of pastors from nearly 75 predominantly black churches in South Florida that have joined together and made deals with local banks and businesses to promote economic development.

Among the local partners are Citibank, Chase, OneUnitedBank, Great Florida Bank and Wachovia.

The Miami-Dade group, which includes more than a dozen, Liberty City churches, is, in turn, part of the Maryland-based National Collective Bank Group.
Willis, who founded the local group in 2004 with nine churches, said he hopes the organization can help bring people and businesses back to Liberty City.

“We want to create a level playing field,” he said.

Paul R. Wiggins, the group's executive director, said church is a natural base for the organization.

“Particularly in the African-American community, the pastor sees more people than anybody,” said Wiggins, who is also the executive minister of Mount Hermon AME Church in Miami Gardens, and who worked in banking for 23 years. “By bringing churches together, you bring people together.”

Renee Reed, a Miami-Dade County corrections officer, wanted to refinance her home two years ago. Citibank wouldn't do the deal, she said, unless she also refinanced her car, which would have greatly increased the interest she paid.

Reed refused, but later returned to the bank as part of the Collective Banking Group and signed a refinancing deal for the house at an even lower interest rate.

“They helped me out just fine,” Reed said. “I let Citibank know and they gave me a reasonable interest rate. Being with the CBG gave me something to work with.”

The group also worked with Robert G. Beatty, publisher of the South Florida Times, when he purchased the newspaper three years ago.

Raymond Baker, market manager at Great Florida Bank, has worked with the group since 2006, providing debt counseling, financial advice and help for first-time home buyers. He echoes Wiggins.

The banking group has been busy over the last few years dealing with the foreclosure crisis, especially concerned with those victimized by so-called predatory lenders who- charged high or unnecessary fees, paid kickbacks to Realtors or committed outright fraud.

“The Collective Banking Group can improve financial conditions in areas like Liberty City,” said Great Florida Bank's Baker.

“I look at it as empowerment,” he said. “You empower the individual, which in turn empowers the church.”

For information about the Collective Banking Group of Miami-Dade and Vicinity, call 786-301-1791 or 954-644-2648 or go to www.mycbgmiami.org.

PCort001@Fiu.edu­­