Deposits Surge at Black-Owned Banks After Celeb Appeals

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He may be called Killer Mike, but he's been a savior for these banks.

Executives at several community banks owned or operated by minorities, including OneUnited Bank in Boston and Carver Federal Savings Bank in New York, say they have received a windfall of deposits in recent weeks, coinciding with the introduction of the Black Money Matters Project.

"I've been in banking since 1989 and I've never experienced anything like this," said Thomas McLaurin, chief operating officer at the $389 million-asset Industrial Bank in Washington, D.C.

The project is not associated with the Black Lives Matter activist movement, although the two groups share similar goals. Michael Render, who performs under the name Killer Mike, and Usher Raymond, who goes by his first name, recently urged African-Americans to open accounts at black-owned or black-operated banks and credit unions as a way to support the black community. Killer Mike and Usher have also led an account-opening drive at the $404 million-asset Citizens Trust Bank in Atlanta.

Since the account drive, Citizens Trust has received more than 8,000 new-account applications.

For some of these banks, which are top-heavy with loans and struggling overall, the deposit surge amounted to a case of extremely good timing.

The $622 million-asset OneUnited in April announced plans to close two California branches for financial reasons, and it still has about $12 million in outstanding shares in the Troubled Asset Relief Program. But since the Black Money Matters effort began, OneUnited has brought in about $3 million in deposits, said President Teri Williams.

"We've seen a big influx of applications online, and the lines have been out the door" at the bank's Los Angeles branches, Williams said. "We're talking about what our staffing needs are going to be going forward. We didn't see this coming."

OneUnited has introduced a promotion called "Black Bank Challenge," urging individuals to open a checking or savings account and to ask 20 friends and associates to do the same. Williams' ultimate goal is to collect $100 million, which she admits is a longshot. The bank will host a rally at a branch in the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles on Saturday.

"We're using the $100 million figure as an example of what's possible," Williams said. "We want the community to think about depositing money. It not only earns interest, it serves a community purpose. It helps buy homes, increase jobs, start businesses and reduce unemployment. Anyone interested in helping the African-American community can deposit."

OneUnited plans to use some of the deposits to expand some of its existing programs through the Treasury Department's Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, such as mortgage lending and affordable housing projects in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

The $754 million-asset Carver on July 15 said it would restate its results for its fiscal year 2015, which will likely result in a loss for the year. But deposit-gathering is another story, as it has collected about $2.4 million in new deposits since the Black Money Matters movement started, Blondel Pinnock, chief lending officer, said in an email to American Banker.

"We attribute this growth to the deep relationships we have built with our customers and community partners at a time when messages of social justice, community, and diversity have taken on renewed importance," Pinnock said.

Carver's net loans and leases to core deposits at March 31 was 128%, compared to 88% for commercial banks nationally with $500 million to $1 billion in assets, according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.  OneUnited's ratio was also 128%.

At Industrial Bank, "account opening volume has increased exponentially," CEO Doyle Mitchell wrote in a recent letter to depositors. In tracking new accounts, Industrial's bankers have noticed that many have increased the size of their balances in recent days, McLaurin said.

Industrial has beefed up its back-office operations to deal with the increased traffic and is considering extending its customer-service hours, McLaurin said.

"This is a wonderful experience to go through," he said.

African-American credit unions don't seem to be enjoying the same benefits, at least to this point. Only a handful of credit unions have reported deposit increases, said Timothy Anderson, chairman of the African American Credit Union Coalition. But it would be a good thing for credit unions to experience a deposit surge, he said.

"We don't want to seem like we're capitalizing on unrest, but we do have credit unions that could benefit from new deposits," said Anderson, who's also chief executive of the $40 million-asset Government Printing Office Credit Union in Washington.

Bankers appreciate the enthusiasm generated by the Black Money Matters movement, but they also acknowledge that advances in financial technology has also played a big role.

"Before, people literally had to go to the branch for the bank to gather money," Williams said. "With technology, garnering spending power and channeling it is easier."

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