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Banking & Finance

Calling For Diversity In Financial Services

By Jenny Callison, posted Jun 4, 2021
In a time when companies of all sizes are taking a close look at the makeup of their workforce and leadership, how are banks – traditionally white and male at the top – doing with this assessment?
 
In an article published last September, the management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. applauded the growing presence of women in corporate leadership, including in the financial services industry, but noted there is “significant work to do” to ensure equal opportunities for people of color.
 
“The financial services talent pipeline shows a lack of representation of people of color, most acutely at senior levels,” the article stated. “Representation in financial services is especially effective for achieving equity, since the sector has control over capital and assets that yield outsize power and influence over markets, the business landscape, and entrepreneurship.”
 
Of course, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) goes further than male/female gender, race and ethnicity. It includes gender identity, age, and cultural background.
 
So, what measures are financial institutions in the Wilmington market doing to ensure that their companies are diverse, equitable and inclusive?
 
“We are committed to having diverse backgrounds and perspectives at all levels within our company, and our work is still in progress,” said Courtney Spencer, chief administrative officer at Live Oak Bank. “Our overall makeup is evenly divided from a gender perspective but there is still work to do at the leadership level. We are taking intentional steps to drive awareness and create equitable opportunities across Live Oak including our board, leadership teams, middle management, new hires and interns.”
 
Spencer noted that this work will take time. Indeed, of Live Oak’s 21-member leadership team shown on its website, there are six women and no African Americans. Its nine-member board of directors includes two women, one of whom is Black.
 
The bank is setting internal DEI goals and has committed to the HBCU Challenge to increase recruiting efforts at historically Black colleges and universities in North Carolina, Spencer said. Live Oak has also formalized a DEI committee, launched affinity groups, held forums on race relations and created a team to focus on underserved communities.
 
In March, Live Oak spinoff nCino tapped one of its existing managers to head up its DEI efforts as well as its community engagement and philanthropy. In his new capacity, Zedrick Applin continues work begun more than a year ago at the financial technology firm that now employs about 1,100 people across its Wilmington headquarters, its office in Salt Lake City and four international locations.
 
“We have a company kickoff every February to talk about the goals of what the company does for the year,” Applin said. “So back in 2020 when we had our company kickoff our CEO expressed the importance of really wanting to put an emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion, even before all of the events of last summer happened.”
 
The firm’s initial step was to form a nine-person diversity and inclusion council that included Applin, who was subsequently tapped to head the initiatives.
 
Currently, nCino’s leadership of nine individuals includes one woman. Its eight-person board of directors also includes one woman. There are no Black members of either body.
 
Truist, the bank resulting from the merger of BB&T and SunTrust, has two women among its 12-person leadership team. One of them is Black, as is one of the men on the team. Its board of directors – 22 in total – includes seven women and four Black members. Two of the Black directors are women.
 
“At Truist, our purpose is to inspire and build better lives and communities, and we believe these values guide us to be intentional about diversity, equity, and inclusion, both within our company and all we serve,” Charles Mattox, Wilmington market president for Truist, said in a statement. “While we are still on our journey, our focus remains unwavering. We’ve publically denounced social injustices and racism of all kinds, reinforcing there is no place for hatred, discrimination, or bias at Truist.”
 
Credit unions are on a similar path with DEI, but may have a head start.
 
Since the credit union movement spread from Europe to the U.S. in the early 1900s, these nonprofit financial cooperatives have maintained a set of seven principles that describe their mission, independence and responsibilities to their members and their communities. To that original list of seven principles has been added an eighth, one that addresses DEI, said Richard DeCrescente, Excite Credit Union’s vice president of retail experience in North Carolina.
 
Excite, which has two locations in Wilmington and two locations in its headquarters city of San Jose, California, has a built-in advantage, DeCrescente said.
 
“Because our credit union is headquartered in Silicon Valley, we have a nice pool of diverse leadership and corporate [staff],” he said. “We have Asian Americans, Latinos, Mexican Americans and Vietnamese. Here in Wilmington, we’re growing more diverse in the last year with our new hires.”
 
Sarah Stone, who will succeed DeCrescente when he retires this month, believes that diverse leadership teams and boards of directors help their organizations become more successful – a position that is backed up McKinsey & Co. and other consultants.
 
“You get that diverse perspective that helps open up the discussion and the decision-making process,” she said. “The process may take more time but the results are better.”
 
Women represent almost half of Excite’s leadership and nearly a third of its board of directors.
 
How do these financial institutions carry out their stated commitments to DEI in practice?
 
Excite looks for opportunities to take care of people who are underserved by the banking industry, said DeCrescente.
 
Spencer said Live Oak Bank looks for ways to diversify its supplier network and, through its lending efforts and soon-to-launch small business center, works to help women- and minority-owned small businesses succeed.
 
“Putting capital into the hands of small business owners who have historically been underserved by the banking industry is of paramount importance to our company,” she said. “We continue to mobilize our lenders to find entrepreneurs in underserved communities to sustain our country’s economy. This includes focused lending to rural communities, women, minorities and veterans.”
 
Because nCino has offices in the U.K., Australia, Canada and Japan, its corporate culture will naturally be enhanced by the influence of its international workforce. Applin said that, while his initial DEI efforts will focus on the company’s U.S. workforce, he is already laying the groundwork for a broader perspective.
 
“I have built relationships with employees in these offices to make it easier for me to translate what my strategy is and how they can get involved,” he said. “For instance, in the U.K. [office] they are already doing an emphasis on female leadership.
 
“Each locale is going to look different, but what we strive to do is make sure each is as diverse and equitable as possible, but knowing we need to take that culture into account.”
 
The Truist Community Benefits Plan earmarked $60 billion for lending or investment to low- and moderate-income borrowers between 2020 and 2022, according to bank spokesman Vince Zito.
 
“In 2020, we committed $78 million in giving to advance DEI, including $40 million to launch CornerSquare Community Capital, funding diverse small businesses with a focus on African Americans and women; $20 million in support of HBCUs; $12.5 million to empower our communities; and $5.5 million in social justice grants,” he added.
 
Zito noted that Truist has been recognized for its diverse hiring and lending practices by Forbes, Equal Opportunity magazine and U.S. Black Chambers. He added, “We received a 100% on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, building upon the strong legacy of our heritage organizations.”

The Business Journal held a roundtable discussion with area large employers about how they also are addressing diversity, inclusion and equity at their organizations. To read more from that conversation, pick up a copy of the June WilmingtonBiz Magazine. or go to wilmingtonbizmagazine.com.
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