COVER STORY: Black America Still Needs Black-Owned Banks

Citizens Trust Bank has had something to celebrate in its 95th year: continued relevance. As a gift of sorts for its nearly century-long existence as an institution in the black community, the community gave back to the bank with nearly $1 million in deposits – in just five days last July. The major influx of account applicants was in response to rapper Killer Mike’s challenge to black consumers to move their money to black-owned financial institutions; 8,000 answered the call with CTB in Atlanta.
The rapper and other black influencers took to social media with the hashtagged phrases “bank black” and “move your money” as a push back against the deluge of high-profile police killings of African Americans. And CTB’s seasoned bankers were prepared for the immediate foot traffic; in fact, the bank was already in the midst of its own campaign for a long-term infusion of business from a younger demographic of bank customers.
Arkeedah McCormick was one such customer. “I was inspired by Killer Mike’s most recent interview with Hot 107.9,” she says. “It made me reevaluate where I was spending my money and most importantly where I was investing my money.” McCormick, an Atlanta-based blogger, immediately felt a shift in her consciousness when she visited CTB.
“My heart smiled as I was sitting in the lobby for over two hours waiting to open my account. It was a pleasant and calm atmosphere while everyone came together for the same purpose. Since posting on social media that I opened an account, a lot of my followers shared that they will be doing the same. I know for a fact that my mother will be opening an account at the same branch I did.”
Nearly a year later, McCormick says it was the right choice.
It was serendipitous. In June 2016, the introduction of CTB’s Next Generation Advisory Board – a council of young executives who will serve in a collaborative capacity to explore innovative and strategic ways to offer financial solutions to a changing and diverse demographic — had been announced.
The NGAB is comprised of 13 young Atlanta business leaders who have an interest in enhancing access to financial services to build wealth and financial success for the current generation and generations to come. In partnership with our advisory board, the bank is working to expand its reach and deepen its impact through alliances.
“As we continue to move our bank forward in an ever-changing marketplace, we wanted to include a new, younger set of thought leaders to help us better serve our customers and communities in ways that are consistent with the 21st century banking customer,” says CTB president of CEO Cynthia N. Day of the group that started to take shape in her mind a few years ago.
“I felt like we could do a lot of things and put a lot of things in place, but we could miss it. So why not go and ask the people that are our future generation?”
Around the country, other heads of black banks have a similar mindset.
OneUnited Bank, the first Black internet bank and the largest Black owned bank in the country, with offices in Los Angeles, Boston and Miami, says it “is a part of the movement to #BankBlack and #BuyBlack, to garner Black spending power and channel it back into the Black community to create jobs, build businesses and increase wealth.”
While the financial institution attracts broad range of customers, Teri Williams — president and owner of OneUnited Bank — notes that the #BankBlack movement is largely being fueled by Millennials.
Asked how they are being attracted, his response is direct.
“OneUnited is and has been unapologetically Black. We strongly believe the way for our community to build wealth is through collective economics, to #BankBlack and #BuyBlack. We believe our messages and services appeal to people who support the movement. Trust, as the movement grows, which it will, everyone will recognize our ice is colder!”
According to Nerd Wallet, a representative with OneUnited said the #BankBlack movement was credited with bringing $20 million in new deposits to the black institution. It had total assets of about $646 million as of September, according to the latest data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
Though statistically black financial institutions have been on the decline,’s U.S. map of black banks and credit unions shows 31 black banks across the country.
Moreover, grassroots organizations like Bank Black USA have taken up the cause of moving $500 million to black-owned banks between Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2017 and 2018 commemorative holiday. A note on its Facebook page says, “while saving for your own future, you can help to bolster these black institutions that support black families, black businesses, and black communities.”
It’s a message that appeals universally.
As for maintaining and deepening the momentum from last summer’s spike in applications, NGAB member Katerina Taylor said the bank has increased its immediate attention on the small business and entrepreneur segment.
“Under a new presidential administration we are keenly aware that funds for small business and entrepreneurs may not be as available as they have been in past administrations, but that should not be a deterrent for people that want to start or grow their business.”
In the first quarter of 2017 the NGAB board met with the Small Business Administration Region office in Atlanta, Taylor, who is president and CEO of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, said. “We reviewed the current SBA programs available to the bank’s customers, as well as their propensity to use what was available to them. From this research we were able to compare past SBA loan production to better assist with the ongoing efforts of the Citizens Trust Bank lending teams to expand its reach and the bank’s business loan offerings around the SBA platform.”
“We have looked at what is new in FinTech and what can we realistically deliver to enhance online, e-service solutions and mobile platforms. The bank’s consumer education strategies continue to encourage some of our most seasoned customers to join us online, and balance their need for traditional banking as well as online banking services. Now, more than ever, we know that innovation paired with human interaction enables us to not only provide financial empowerment for our customers and communities but also sets us apart in the marketplace.”
“We continue to provide financial education to area high schools and continue to be a responsive financial partner through the creation on financial solutions to promote sustained financial health,” she said.
And that, essentially, is the sentiment CTB senior executives aimed for in considering how to fortify the institution for next.
“We started these conversations by establishing the advisory board through what we’re already doing in the community. The more awareness that we get, the greater the impact we can have. That’s why I say the timing was perfect,” Day says.
Vonetta Y. Daniels, another NGAB member, is hopeful that the community’s commitment to supporting its own will this time stick.
“My personal hope is that from this tragedy we as a human race have a renewed reminder of our responsibilities to educate and empower underserved communities, highlight the contributions of Black people and disadvantaged people to the American story, and specific to CTB — bring a renewed focus on the need for financial education, financial literacy and stability as necessary for current and future generations.”


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