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For Chase director, local branch is personal

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
For Chase director, local branch is personal
JPMorgan Chase Managing Director Roxann Cooke shows off a mural with likenesses of Toussaint L’Ouverture and Marcus Garvey on the back of the Mattapan branch building. BANNER PHOTO

For Roxann Cooke, opening the new JPMorgan Chase bank branch in Mattapan Square is like coming full circle.

The Jamaica-born, Roxbury-raised banker began her adult life with an apartment in Mattapan and bought a house and raised a family in the neighborhood. All the while she worked her way up through the banking world and now serves as the consumer bank regional director and managing director at JPMorgan Chase.

The new Mattapan location — the first bank branch to open in the square in decades — is what the bank calls a community branch — one with enhanced services, space for community convenings and plans for partnerships with local nonprofits to help neighborhood residents meet needs ranging from financial literacy and credit repair to jobs and skills training.

With the community branch opening, Cooke is bringing part of JP Morgan Chase’s $30 billion commitment to investing in underserved communities to her home neighborhood.

“I say to people all the time, ‘It’s personal and professional for me,’” Cooke said in an interview with the Banner.

The community branch has a branch manager as well as a community center manager and will include mentoring resources for local entrepreneurs starting or expanding their small businesses and pop-up spaces for businesses to market their goods or services. Prominent in the branch is a community “living room” area and events space. Community members can take advantage of the free Wi-Fi or hold small meetings or work remotely in the space.

The branch will also hold workshops to build financial health, including sessions on saving, budgeting and building credit.

“For us, this is a new way to bank,” Cooke said. “It’s a new way to connect with an un-banked or under-banked community. It’s more of a relationship-building space than a transactional space.”

Mattapan, a neighborhood of 36,000, is 82% Black and 11% white, according to 2013 Boston Planning and Development Agency data. The community has a high concentration of Haitian and Jamaican residents, with more than a third of the population foreign-born. The median household income of $44,000 is significantly lower than the city’s median household income of $51,000.

As the city’s housing market has become increasingly unaffordable, displacement has come to Mattapan. Real estate investors have bought large rental developments and increased rents. At the Fairlawn Estates, the real estate investment firm DSG has rechristened the 400-unit development SoMa (for south Mattapan) at the T and raised tenants’ rents as high as 20%, citing the development’s proximity to a new commuter rail station in the square.

Cooke said she’s concerned with helping residents remain in Mattapan.

“As we continue to experience growth, how do we make sure the residents here experience some of the economic vitality that’s coming to the area?” she said.

Part of the answer, Cooke said, is to help residents get their finances in order. She said the branch will also partner with nonprofits to host homebuying classes and small business workshops.

“Our goal is to sit down and listen to customers and then give them the products and services they need,” she said.

For job readiness and training programs, the branch has partnered with Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation, Jewish Vocational Services and the Boston Foundation.

The bank will offer an array of accounts, Cooke said, to meet the requirements of clients of varied needs.

“We’ll sit down with you and ask what are your short-term goals, what are your long-term goals, and then find a product for you,” she said. “A lot of what you hear from people is ‘I can’t open an account’ because of some challenges in the past. We’ve created a product for that. We’ll start people off with a secured checking product created specifically because there are so many people who are out of the banking system. A lot of people think check cashers are the only solution. They’re not.”

Cooke grew up in the Grove Hall section of Roxbury, attended Boston Technical High School (now the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science) and Dartmouth College. She began her banking career managing a branch in Grove Hall.

She now oversees Chase branches in the New England states, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.

ChaseBank, Mattapan Square, Roxann Cooke