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Exclusion and Marginalization in Financial Services: Frontline Employees as Street-Level Bureaucrats

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By Terri Friedline, SeYoung Oh, Thomas Klemm, and Jase Kugiya


Lack of access to credit and routine banking precludes full participation in the economy for people from marginalized groups and is a fundamental aspect of enduring wealth gaps. While most banks offer standardized products and services such as checking accounts, the products and services delivered to racially and economically diverse groups may depend on how bankers provide access. This study made financial institutions the focal point of an investigation into financial exclusion and marginalization while advancing the literature on street-level bureaucracy. Qualitative in-depth interviews with 36 frontline financial service employees revealed highly-predictable, patterned narratives around banks’ sales culture, social biases and moral judgments, and exclusion and marginalization. Frontline financial service employees used these narratives to deem customers worthy of responsible banking in ways that advantage wealthier and white customers and exclude and marginalize Black, Brown, and poor white customers.

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