Behind the glass wall of her bank branch conference room, it’s clear Nicole Byers knows this block on Beatties Ford Road like the back of her hand.
Looking at her intersection with LaSalle Street, she points to half a dozen old haunts that she remembers growing up in Charlotte’s West End in the late ’80s. There was the old library down the street where she had. the habit of “doing homework” (read: going out) with friends. The “American Deli” restaurant a few doors down which was once a beloved bakery. And of course, the McDonald’s cafeteria, the community gathering place that once occupied the building she now works in.
âThere was a lot of stuff here that you could do as a kid,â said Byers, 43, who manages the JP Morgan Chase branch at 2023 Beatties Ford Road. “You knew everyone, everyone knew you.”
Growing up in northwest Charlotte, Byers recalls wanting to work as a teacher or nurse – something that would make a difference, she said. Instead, a part-time job as a college bank teller took her down another path, in the financial services industry.
Now, as the manager of JP Morgan’s new branch in town and first along Beatties Ford Road, she hopes to make a difference in another way: by helping her neighbors manage their money.
âI hope this will be a place where people know they can come to get the financial education they need and deserve,â she said. âWe’re not just there to cash a check. We’re here to help you change your lifeâ¦ in a positive way.
A part of something bigger
Byers grew up just down the street from where she now works in the Smallwood neighborhood. She attended West Charlotte High School, where several of her classmates had parents who served on city council or as community leaders.
âI learned a bit from it,â she said. “It kind of influenced me to want to be a part of something bigger, something that has helped people.”
After graduation, she began classes at Central Piedmont Community College. It was while she was studying there that a friend recommended that she take a part-time job as a bank teller.
It was decent work, they told him, that could be balanced with his schoolwork.
âThe only thing I knew about a bank was how to get in, cash a check and leave,â she recalls. “It just happened by chance.”
The circle is complete
To Byers’ surprise, she enjoyed working in the bank.
âEvery day I was learning something new,â she said. âI learned a lot of things that helped me grow financiallyâ¦ and I was able to share that with people in my community. “
Growing up, Byers said she didn’t learn much about personal finance or financial literacy.
âOne of the things in my community, as a black person, we don’t learn much about finance,â she said. “My parents couldn’t teach me that, because it wasn’t something they really knew.”
This lack of knowledge can exacerbate other systemic factors that create disparities like the racial wealth gap, she said.
She began to share some of what she learned at work with friends and family, explaining topics like what constitutes a credit score or how to start saving for retirement.
âThey were like my first clients, in a way,â she said.
Even things like opening a checking or savings account were relatively new concepts for some in his community, which was mostly cash based.
The job prompted her to earn a four-year degree in business administration from Strayer University. She became a full-time cashier, then held executive positions at Wachovia and Wells Fargo which led her to her current position at JP Morgan Chase.
She got the branch manager job before she found out what part of Charlotte she would work in. When she found out it would be in the neighborhood she called home, it was “a loop moment,” she said.
âI cried. I was very emotional,â she said. “It was like Christmas.”
When the branch opened this month, his banking career and his dreams of making a difference came together.
âI always thought I wanted to come back to my community to do something. I never knew exactly what, âshe said. âBut when I had the opportunity to work in the banking industry, I thought to myself, ‘This is it. That’s what I need to bring back to my community, right? Because that’s what they need.
“Where i am supposed to be”
The Beatties Ford Road Corridor is one of Charlotte’s Corridors of Opportunity, one of six areas identified for the city’s economic reinvestment efforts.
That focus has intensified in recent weeks after the launch of the Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative, a $ 250 million program built by city leaders and Mayor Vi Lyles to tackle racial inequalities in the city.
The program includes funds intended to fund Johnson C. Smith University, increase Internet access, diversify business leadership, and support minority-owned small businesses.
Byers said this was not the first attempt she saw from local leaders to invest in the neighborhood. She hopes the new efforts will focus on engaging and empowering lifelong residents, whether that’s helping them become homeowners or grow their businesses.
It’s similar to the goals she has for her own bank branch.
âIt’s all about empowerment,â she said. âIt’s not about trying to tell yourself, ‘This is what I recommend you do’ … it’s about ‘Here are some choices for you. What do you feel most comfortable with right now? What will work for you? ‘ “
She has already made a small difference. Her mother, who is in her 60s and was one of Byers’ first “clients” when she started her career in banking, recently bought her first home in Charlotte.
This is a big step for a woman who, when Byers started taking care of her finances, did not have a checking or savings account. She is delighted to have been there every step of the way.
âIt’s a passion of mine. It’s really, really something built into me and my heart to see this community thrive,â she said. âI feel like it is. is where I’m supposed to be. ”
This story was originally published November 29, 2021 6:00 a.m.