Dorothy Bridges is as prepared for downturns as they come. Lending in areas hurt by economic hardship is her specialty.
But the head of the Washington, D.C.-based community development lender City First Bank, and one of a few black women to run a U.S. bank, faces a difficult test. She arrived last September from a Minnesota development bank just as City First's earnings were beginning to slide and the downturn was pulling investor interest from D.C.'s lower-income areas. "Investors are looking for safety," Bridges says. "It's presented a challenge to us."
But Bridges, who in nine years at Franklin National Bank in Minneapolis doubled the bank's assets to $116 million, is not deterred. The $128 million-asset City First is aggressively using the New Markets Tax Credit Program, which gives lenders tax breaks to finance projects in blighted areas. Bridges is also pursuing "patient capital" to help expand City First. That's why the bank withdrew its application for capital under the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program-demand for dividends on those funds and prompt repayment does not fit her long-term strategy.
"Everything that we make we put it back into the bank," Bridges says.
An emerging voice on community banking issues, she became interested in community development lending when early career success led to her volunteering more. "Community development lending, she says, "is the area of the sandbox that I really enjoy the most about being a banker."
Bridges says while community banks have been the "engines" for growth in suburbs and small towns, their service to low-income urban consumers can be improved. "I have to be honest and say there could be more. That's a conversation that's starting to bubble up."