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How US Banks are Responding to Racial Injustice

Companies across the US and Canada are pledging money and action to support minority co-workers and communities

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How US Banks are Responding to Racial Injustice

Banks and financial institutions have taken actions to help address inequality in recent weeks, in the wake of protests and campaigns across the US.

Many banks closed their branches early on Friday in recognition of Juneteenth, but several also chose to highlight how they were attempting to improve diversity and opportunities for minorities.

US Bank’s chief diversity officer Greg Cunningham wrote a heartfelt blog for the bank’s website describing his own experiences with racism, but also his bank’s work on positive actions.

“This has been a painful reawakening of something I have dealt with my entire life,” Cunningham said of the protests over the death of George Floyd and others.

“It has also, however, given me energy through a personal sense of obligation coupled with a professional sense of outsized responsibility because of my role. Understanding fully that a chief diversity officer must drive action, my focus has been in moving forward immediately in three primary areas.”

He called for companies to have an “intentional focus on advancing black leaders”, and place equal value on their contributions. “We are making progress but need to continue to improve in this area,” he said.

Large companies also needed to cultivate “meaningful relationships with black-owned businesses”, Cunningham continued, in an effort to address the “racial wealth gap”. A 2016 Federal Reserve study showed that white households held on average $170,000 in wealth, while black households averaged just $17,000.

“As bankers, we are trained to examine such dilemmas, challenge common assumptions and create solutions,” Cunningham said. “So, we have convened a cross-functional group of leaders from across the company to determine how we can act most effectively to impact these outcomes locally and nationally.”

Finally, Cunningham underlined the importance of corporate leaders at all levels being “active in denouncing systemic racism and acknowledging privilege”.

“As we collectively focus on listening over the coming days, weeks and months, we will work to transform these three areas from words to actions,” he concluded.  His full blog can be found here.

US Bank has pledged to invest in and support the local communities in which it operates. It announced a $15 million fund set up by the US Bank Foundation to award grants “dedicated to addressing systemic economic and racial inequalities in small business, affordable housing and workplace development”.

It also promised to double its partnerships with African-American suppliers within the next 12 months, as well as providing “$100 million annually in capital to African-American owned and led businesses or organizations”. The bank also pledged to make changes to its talent management strategy to “develop and promote” people of color to senior roles.

Other bank leaders including HSBC USA chief executive Michael Roberts, BNY Mellon chief executive Todd Gibbons, Hancock Whitney’s president and CEO John Hairston, and USAA CEO Wayne Peacock all issued statements pledging support for minority staff, customers and communities, while also promising action to address diversity issues.

Several banks have also pledged investment and grants to support minority causes in recent days:

  • Comerica has committed $1 million over four years to the National Business League as part of a partnership to help launch the Black Capital Access Program.

  • PNC Financial Services Group committed more than $1 billion to local community causes “to help end systemic racism and support economic empowerment of African Americans and low- and moderate-income communities”.

  • In a memo to staff at the start of June, American Express chairman and CEO Stephen Squeri said the company would donate $1 million to support social justice organizations the National Urban League and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. It will also match employee donations to these and similar charities and non-profits. 

  • Bank of America has committed $25 million to the Smithsonian to fund a new initiative, titled Race, Community and Our Shared Future”. The initiative which will “explore how Americans currently understand, experience and confront race, its impact on communities and how that impact is shaping the nation’s future”, the Smithsonian said in a statement.

  • Ally Bank issued a statement in support of minority staff, customers and communities and promised to “keep listening and to promote and host dialogues that help create solutions”. These included providing financial resources, but also building on existing relationships with the National Museum of African American History and Culture and other organizations “that promote not only racial equality, but racial equity, across our country to build a path toward healing and unity”.

  • Morgan Stanley announced a $5 million contribution to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and pledged to match all donations to the fund made by its US employees. It also pledged $10 million in grants to minority depository institutions.

  • Webster Bank has donated $100,000 to two social justice organizations, the Equal Justice Initiative and RE-Center Race & Equity in Education.

  • Goldman Sachs has created a $10 million fund dedicated to supporting the work of organizations addressing “racial injustice, structural inequity and economic disparity”, it announced earlier this month. All staff donations will be matched by the company.

  • Discover has also donated to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Equal Justice Initiative, and has promised to match employee donations to causes including the ACLU Foundation, Race Forward and the National Urban League.

  • Northern Trust is to provide $20 million to international causes over five years to address aspects of inequality in food, housing, healthcare and education.

  • BMO Financial Group has donated a total of $1 million to organizations across North America to “support social and racial justice and inclusion”.
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