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From behind the glass wall of her bank branch’s conference room, it’s clear Nicole Byers knows this block on Beatties Ford Road like the back of her hand.
Looking out onto its intersection with LaSalle Street, she points out a half dozen old haunts she remembers from growing up in Charlotte’s West End in the late ‘80s. There was the old library down the road where she used to “do homework” (read: hang out) with friends. The “American Deli” restaurant a few doors down that used to be a beloved bakery. And of course, McDonald’s Cafeteria, the community gathering spot that once occupied the building she now works in.
“There were a lot of things here that you could do as a kid,” said Byers, 43, who manages the JP Morgan Chase branch at 2023 Beatties Ford Road. “You knew everybody, everybody knew you.”
Growing up in northwest Charlotte, Byers remembers wanting to work as a teacher or a nurse — something that would make a difference, she said. Instead, a part-time job as a bank teller in college led her down another path, in the financial services industry.
Now, as the manager of JP Morgan’s newest branch in the city and first along Beatties Ford Road, she hopes to make a difference in another way: by helping her neighbors manage their money.
“I’m hoping that this will be a place that people know that they can come to to get the financial education that they need and deserve to have,” she said. “We’re not just here to cash a check. We’re here to help change your life … 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 the City Council or as community leaders.
“I got to learn a little bit from that,” she said. “It influenced me in a way to want to be part of something bigger, something that helped people.”
After graduation, she started classes at Central Piedmont Community College. It was while she was studying there that a friend recommended she take a part-time job as a bank teller.
It was a decent job, they told her, that could be balanced with her schoolwork.
“The only thing I knew about a bank was how to walk in, cash a check and leave,” she recalled. “It just kind of happened by chance.”
Coming full circle
To Byers’ surprise, she loved working at the bank.
“Every day I was learning something new,” she said. “I learned a lot of things that helped me grow financially… 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.
“One of the things in my community, as a Black person, we don’t learn a lot about finance,” she said. “My parents couldn’t teach me that, because that wasn’t something that they really knew about.”
That lack of knowledge can compound other systemic factors that create disparities like the racial wealth gap, she said.
She started sharing some of what she was learning at work with her friends and family, explaining topics like what makes up a credit score or how to start saving for retirement.
“They were like my first customers, in a way,” she said.
Even things like opening a checking or savings account were relatively new concepts for some members of her community, which was primarily cash-based.
The work inspired her to earn a four-year degree in business administration from Strayer University. She became a full-time teller and then moved into management roles at Wachovia and Wells Fargo that led to her current position at JP Morgan Chase.
She got the branch manager job before she knew what part of Charlotte she’d be working in. When she found out it would be in the neighborhood she called home, it was “a full circle moment,” she said.
“I cried. I was very emotional,” she said. “It was like Christmas.”
When the branch opened this month, her banking career and dreams of making a difference converged.
“It’s always been in the back of my mind that I want to come back to my community to do something. I never knew exactly what,” she said. “But then when I got the opportunity to work in banking, I was like, ‘That’s what it is. That’s what I have to bring back to my community, right?’ Because that’s what they need.”
‘Where I am meant to be’
The Beatties Ford Road corridor is one of Charlotte’s corridors of opportunity, one of six areas identified for economic reinvestment efforts by the city.
That focus has intensified in recent weeks following the launch of the Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative, a $250 million program built by city leaders and Mayor Vi Lyles to address racial inequalities in the city.
The program includes funds earmarked for funding Johnson C. Smith University, increasing internet access, diversifying corporate leadership and supporting minority-owned small businesses.
Byers said it’s not the first attempt she’s seen from local leaders to invest in the neighborhood. She hopes the new efforts will focus on involving and empowering lifelong residents, whether that be helping them become homeowners or grow their businesses.
It’s similar to the goals she has for her own bank branch.
“It’s all about empowerment,” she said. “It’s not about trying to tell you ‘This is what I recommend that you do’ ... It’s about, ‘Here are some choices out here for you. What do you feel most comfortable with right now? What’s going to work for you?’”
She’s already made one small difference. Her mother, who is in her 60s and was one of Byers’ first “customers” when she started her banking career, recently bought her first home in Charlotte.
It’s a big step for a woman who, when Byers first started helping with her finances, didn’t have a checking or savings account. She’s thrilled to have been there every step of the way.
“This is a passion of mine. It’s really, truly something embedded in me and in my heart to just see this community thrive,” she said. “I feel like this is where I am meant to be.”