Regulators have promoted the growth of minority-owned banks since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These efforts have paid off to some extent with the success of Chinese-American and Chinese-owned banks, as well as Korean-American and Korean-owned banks. But today there are virtually no black-owned banks in the country that are large enough to serve a significant segment of black or other minority communities. The U.S. also has a dearth of Latino-owned banks (excluding Cuban American-owned banks) and banks that are owned by Southeast Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders.
Because of the current regulatory and economic landscape, it is unlikely that many new minority-owned banks or white-owned banks for that matter will emerge over the next decade. Rather than try to swim against the current, an increasing number of minority communities are urging large white-owned financial institutions and Chinese and Korean American-owned banks to address the concerns of all underserved minority communities.
This cannot be done without strong support and leadership from banking regulators. An initial signal that the regulators may support this initiative are the reforms to Community Reinvestment Act exams suggested by three regulators on Sept. 8. The proposed changes include giving extra CRA credit to banks that lead efforts to move financially underserved populations away from payday lenders and into banking, and to banks that make microloans to small businesses. Extra CRA credit would also be available to banks that use alternative credit scoring models as part of their home origination and other loan underwriting decisions. We estimate that this last change alone could help an additional one million Americans become homeowners each year.
But even more innovation is needed in order to ensure that banks are meeting the needs of minority communities. Individual banks should be creating plans as to how they can better serve the underbanked and maximize responsible homeownership and small business development. Moreover, regulators should reward banks that pursue such changes by giving them extra CRA credit and, where necessary, relaxing unnecessary regulatory barriers.
Large and small Chinese American-owned banks in California are already taking action to broaden their CRA horizons, encouraged by discussions with black, Latino and Southeast Asian churches, business chambers and minority grassroots non-profits.
The two largest Chinese American-owned banks, East West Bank and Cathay Bank, have begun to reexamine their CRA responsibilities in recognition of the fact that Latinos, blacks and Southeast Asians often constitute the vast majority of populations in their assessment areas. Smaller Chinese American-owned banks, led by Royal Business Bank, have also begun exploring ways to assist all underserved communities.
Royal Business is now providing massive lines of credit to nonprofits that allow them purchase real-estate owned properties, rehabilitate the houses and sell them to low- and moderate-income families. And East West, Cathay and Royal Business have each started financial education programs that focus on black youth, who currently face a disproportionately high unemployment rate.
Underrepresented minority communities have also approached Korean American-owned banks, including BBCN Bank, Hamni Bank, and Wilshire Bank, about how they can replicate the progressive CRA stance of many Chinese American-owned banks.
In addition, more must be done to ensure that the nation's 130 million minorities receive effective banking services from white-owned banks including too big to fail banks like JPMorgan Chase, which lost its "outstanding" rating in 2013. JPMorgan could become a number-one home originator to low- and moderate-income families by developing a failsafe alternative credit scoring system to use in conjunction with responsible homeownership requirements and expectations. If other financial institutions follow JPMorgan's lead, these measures would ward off potential for another subprime housing crisis while allowing homeownership among minorities to reach record highs. This could be a very realistic and profitable effort for many of the country's largest financial institutions.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln created the first black-owned bank the Freedmans Savings Bank. Fifty years after the Civil Rights Act was enacted and the War on Poverty began, it is time for community groups, banks and regulators to develop a new paradigm for ensuring that all minorities are effectively served by our increasingly regulated and federally-subsidized banking industry.
Mark Whitlock is the senior minister of the largest black church in Orange County, Calif., Christ Our Redeemer Church, and the director of corporate partnerships for 5,000 African Methodist Episcopal churches. Faith Bautista is the chief executive of National Asian American Coalition.