BankThink

Will BB&T-SunTrust serve the community or Wall Street?

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When Tim Sloan took the reins of Wells Fargo from John Stumpf, he was a good man who was given a chance to lead a large bank.

But to change the culture at Wells Fargo — and to usher in a new spirit of community development and consumer respect — requires more than billboards and platitudes. Unfortunately, Sloan defended the status quo within the bank, settling for an increase in the marketing budget instead of truly addressing the bank’s problems.

Now another major banking executive appears at risk of squandering a similar opportunity.

Kelly King, chief executive of BB&T, is asking regulators to approve his merger with SunTrust to form the sixth-largest bank in the U.S. Like Sloan, King is a good man who has a chance to lead — to set a new path for the banking industry and to change the way large banks engage with the communities they serve. King has an opportunity to lead a large bank in accessing underserved communities. BB&T-SunTrust can meaningfully begin to drive down the number of unbanked and underbanked households across the country.

If fact, many of the most neglected, unbanked communities sit right in BB&T and SunTrust’s backyard. King must understand the responsibility that comes from forming and overseeing such a large bank, especially one that will likely continue to crowd out and swallow up smaller competitors.

Unfortunately, like Wells Fargo’s Sloan, he appears to think the task of community development is below his pay grade. BB&T has focused its spending and King’s time on public relations, lawyers and lobbyists, instead of building bridges with organizations that serve those who continue to be left out and who are at risk of, once again, being left behind.

National community advocacy organizations have been unable to talk to King directly and have been told that BB&T intends to filter all community comments through BB&T’s handpicked community representative. He seems not to understand the benefit from hearing from diverse community voices who desire the same respectful interactions that he provides to Wall Street.

BB&T has indicated that the bank has no plans to write a community development plan for which it can be held accountable until after its merger is approved. The bank has also suggested it will only negotiate with one community group as part of the acquisition, although the problems that persist in areas impacted by the proposed merger require many more voices at the table. In addition, BB&T has signaled that it will not document certain promises it has made — simply suggesting that it should just be trusted.

We hope that King realizes, before it is too late, that doing right for the community is not a marketing expense and not a compliance expense, but a business plan. We pray that King will decide to be a new kind of bank leader and build a new kind of bank that can be trusted by the community and will do right for the community.

Unfortunately, he has yet to differentiate himself from the failed tactics to deal with the community that were deployed by Tim Sloan.

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