The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has released a report card on how the nation's largest banks relate to African-Americans, and the results are not pretty.
The banks received a group grade of C-minus in the report, which came out Monday. Individual companies that fared worse include National City Corp., which received a D-plus, and U.S. Bancorp, Mellon Financial Corp., FleetBoston Financial Corp., KeyCorp, Citigroup Inc., and Wells Fargo & Co., which all got D's. Bank of America Corp., which has a close working relationship with the NAACP and recently gave it a $6 million grant to help educate homeowners and small-business owners about credit, received the ranking's highest grade: a B.
In all, 15 banks with revenues of $5 billion or more were surveyed in the summer and graded on employment practices, community reinvestment, advertising and marketing, vendor development, and charitable giving. The ranking used the traditional A through F scale, and the NAACP says it is the first of what will be an annual assessment.
"The report card grades earned by the banking industry are disappointing and a serious indication that people of color are still not ensured fair access, full benefit, or equal treatment by banks in their communities," said Kweisi Mfume, the NAACP's president and chief executive officer.
Though several other organizations, namely the Council on Economic Priorities, the Public Research Interest Group, and Consumer Reports, scrutinize financial industry performance from a consumer perspective, no other group looks specifically at how well banks serve the black community.
Many of the companies surveyed said the report card is useful because it can help them find out how well they are or are not communicating with an important constituency. "The questions they ask are questions that should be asked. They are priorities that we share," said Barry Koling, a spokesman for Atlanta-based SunTrust Banks Inc., which nevertheless got an F.
Community activists also said they welcomed the report card, mostly because they thought the low grades would help lead to more lending in low-income neighborhoods.
"It's important that the industry be put on notice," said Sarah Ludwig, executive director of the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project, in New York. "There's a structural failure of the entire industry to give work to minority vendors and employees."
Matthew Lee of Inner City Press/Community on the Move, a grass-roots organization in New York's Bronx borough, agreed. "Given how inflated the Community Redevelopment Act ratings by the regulators are, independent assessments are a good thing," he said. "There isn't enough systematic grading of the banks and it's so needed. It's a good thing that they did it."
Disappointed with their performance, several of the largest U.S. financial institutions said Tuesday that they would seek to have better information available for next year's ranking. In fact, the quality of response seemed to have had a lot to do with the survey's final outcome.
SunTrust said its poor grade resulted from a failure to consolidate information about its 28 separately chartered banks. "I would have given us an 'incomplete,' " Mr. Koling said.
"We've since consolidated the charters and look forward to having the information available for next time. We generally feel pretty good about our program in the areas they were looking at: equal opportunity for employees, vendor management, and corporate commitment to communities and minority constituencies," he said.
Henry Hicks, a Bank of America senior vice president, said the $6 million grant had nothing to do with his company's favorable ranking. "We got a survey in the mail and we filled it out just like everybody else. They wouldn't hesitate to give us a poor grade if we didn't respond appropriately."
Wells Fargo spokesman Larry Haeg said the San Francisco company scored poorly because it did not have the right information available in the right format, primarily because of its recent merger.
"It was very difficult to provide the data that they wanted for 1999 because of the way the former Norwest and the former Wells Fargo collected and identified information," Mr. Haeg said. "The NAACP understood and appreciated the data dilemma we were in. They chose to go ahead and use their own assessment."
Reza Aghamirzadeh, senior vice president and manager for community development at U.S. Bancorp said his company was stumped by a request for the amount of money it had given in charitable donations to minorities, particularly African-Americans, he said. "We don't collect that kind of information from grantee organizations," he said.
From Our Archive: