Banks Leaders Respond! A Call to Systemic Racism in Black Communities

It was a letter by a bank executive chairman to employees that brought about a united front. Gary Torgow’s letter condemned the murder of George Floyd and called for the prosecution of police officers in connection to his death last summer.

Torgow, chairman of TCF Bank at the time, now Huntington Bank, recognized the responsibility and power he had to address systemic racism and bias. His letter caught the attention of Rev. Wendell Anthony, President of Detroit Branch NAACP and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. Both leaders called on several Detroit corporate executives to stand united in calling out Floyd’s murder and racial inequities.

In a June 2020 press conference, nine business executives from major employers in Detroit including automotive, healthcare and banking, made a joined voice in its uncompromising support for equal justice for every American and making investments in programs and policies to address disparities in underserved communities.

For every one of the nine Detroit corporate institutions, their bold and unified statement, intent and actions are on-going, including those at Huntington Bank.

“When TCF and Huntington first began discussions about the possibility of merging the two banks, we recognized that it would be our responsibility to do even more for the community, especially to address systemic racism and bias,” said Gary Torgow in a statement to Michigan Chronicle.

“Last summer, shortly after the pledge we made, TCF announced a $1 billion commitment over five years to invest in women- and minority-owned small businesses and small businesses in minority communities. Following the completion of the TCF-Huntington merger in June, Huntington chairman, president and CEO Steve Steinour and I held a news conference at the Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre to announce a new strategic community plan for $40 billion over five years, which will open up doors for so many more people to pursue their American Dream. I am proud of the work that the combined bank has done thus far to launch the plan and look forward to seeing the impact this investment will have on our communities in the years to come.”

One of the national public talking points after Floyd’s murder last summer has been the conversation of disparity in the racial wealth gap.

Black homeowners are confronted with the greatest disparity across metro Detroit as it relates to home values verses comparison of homeowners regionally.

Black home values sit at $106, 413 compared with $195,270 across the metro Detroit counties, a 45 percent differential, across to a study by Zillow Group Inc., an online real estate company.

So, what is the outlook for addressing inequities such a homeownership and years-long barriers to capital for small Black-owned businesses?

The answer might be found in multiple strategies across banking institutions.

Last October, Chase Bank announced a $30 billion commitment, over the course of 5 years, toward addressing the racial wealth gap.

The $30 billion includes specific commitments to increase homeownership, grow small businesses, support financial health and access to banking and drive and support an inclusive diverse workforce.

To support access to affordable homes and increase homeownership, Chase plans to increase equity, affordability and access to housing by originating 40,000 new home purchase loans for Black and Latinx households through an additional $8 billion commitment in mortgages. Chase Bank is also helping an additional 20,000 Black and Latinx households achieve lower mortgage payments through refinancing loans totaling up to $4 billion.

The drive to support increased minority homeownership is a community-driven approach at PNC Bank in an effort to be a good neighbor.

“Inside of our $18 billion commitment for home lending, we’ve carried out 47 million of those dollars directly to enable that kind of access to capital, but specifically for borrowers that are eligible and a moderate-income community, specifically for borrowers of color, no matter what community they choose to live in,” said Richard Bynum, chief corporate responsibility officer, PNC Bank. “I do enjoy working with local minorities and other institutions, as well as community development, financial institutions who are on the ground in equal measure with us and our distribution in markets to make sure that there’s that access to capital.”

The billions of dollars keep pouring in as more of America’s corporate banks address long disparities and equity.

“Bank of America is delivering on a $1.25 billion commitment over five years to help advance racial equality and economic opportunity, with a particular focus on helping create opportunity for people and communities of color,” said Matt Elliott, president, Bank of America Michigan. “The focus includes addressing four areas where systemic, long-term gaps have existed and where we believe we can drive positive change – capital and additional support for minority-owned small business owners, job creation and workforce development, access to healthcare and affordable housing.”

A generational wealth gap is most often the leading cause, a symptom, most civil right leaders would link to systemic racism.

“Our nation stands at a crossroads. One road leads forward towards justice and equity and another road leads backwards towards injustice and inequality,” said Rev. Wendell Anthony at last year’s press conference of united Detroit CEOs.

“They come further acknowledging that the coronavirus disease of 2020 has exposed even more the stark disparity that continues to exist in programs and policies in the African American community. These disparities more often than not, lead to a tragic death and a despaired reduction in the quality of life for people of color already dealing with too much poverty and too much pain.”

Huntington’s recent pledge to invest $40 billion “Strategic Community Plan” for Detroit, announced in June, is a part of a five-year plan which places more focus on Black and Brown communities, minority, women and veterans.

“For one particular program that has already come out of a plan is something that we label ‘lift local,’” said Eric Dietz, regional president of southeastern Michigan, Huntington Bank. “Huntington is the number one SBA lender in the state of Michigan and quite frankly, in the United States in several key SBA categories. So, what that tells a lot of people, and it’s something that I like to talk about, is that we get to say yes more often than any other small business lender in the country.”

Deepening Black and minority small business outcomes is an objective for Bynum at PNC Bank as well. “Our effort will be taking those dollars with a relatively small business that’s generating less than a million dollars in annual revenues that will be considered for small business; that we provide those dollars in the form of loans to small businesses… and through this distribution mechanism, which is the creation of a minority small business development group within PNC. We are doing some real work connecting to us in communities where we live”

Deliverables across every front for equitable banking policies continues to drive the agenda for Elliot at Bank of America.

“We’ve directed one-third, or $300 million, of [our] $1.25 billion commitment to four key areas: $25 million in support of jobs initiatives in Black and Hispanic/Latino communities, $25 million in support of community outreach and initiatives, $50 million in direct equity investments to Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs) and $200 million of proprietary equity investments in minority entrepreneurs, businesses and funds. Our first direct equity investment in MDIs and community development financial institutions included Detroit’s First Independence Bank.”

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