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Tina Casey headshot

Bank Policy Institute Attacks Racism, But Not Voter Suppression

By Tina Casey
Voter Suppression

Just in time for a congressional hearing on diversity and inclusion in the financial sector, the Bank Policy Institute recently released a set of 30 recommendations for banks to help undo some of the economic damage done by generations of institutional racism. However, unless the Bank Policy Institute can convince financial corporations to stop supporting lawmakers leading voter suppression efforts, those 30 circles of activity will continue to be trapped in a walled-off square, and the promise of equal rights will remain a hollow one.

The Bank Policy Institute tackles institutional racism

The Bank Policy Institute’s 30 Best Bank Practices report is intended to promote a significant increase in economic opportunities and fairness in matters of finance. Compiled in the wake of George Floyd’s murder last year, it focuses specifically on the improvement of outcomes in Black communities, but it can apply to other communities of color as well.

BPI released the report in time to catch the news cycle with its testimony before the House Subcommittee on Diversity and Inclusion earlier this week. In that context, the report’s authors do not sugarcoat the current state of diversity and inclusion.

“Nearly one in five Black adults making over $100,000 a year reports being denied credit, more than twice the rate of White adults. And the rate of Black adults who are unbanked is more than double the rate of adults overall,” BPI explains.

“In slavery’s aftermath, the mainstream banking system remained largely closed to Black Americans, and so large-scale benefits of financial inclusion were denied to the community as a whole,” BPI states, adding that “This disparity persists to the modern day, driven by the shortcomings of past policy, neglect and intentional exclusion.” 

Voter suppression trumps best practices

The congressional hearing was titled, “The Legacy of George Floyd,” and its purpose was to “examine the extent to which banks, publicly traded companies, and others in the financial services industry have made good on their promises to Black communities and businesses, as well as steps those institutions have taken towards achieving sustainable racial equity within their organizations.”

Given that focus, it is understandable that none of the 30 recommendations outlined by BPI deal directly with voter suppression. Nevertheless, suppression of the Black vote and exclusion from the democratic process is a thread — and all too often, a murderous one — that has run concurrently with economic suppression and exclusion all throughout American history.

As with economic suppression, voter suppression has persisted to the modern day. The organized mob that attacked Congress on January 6 was ginned up by a years-long litany of false claims of voter fraud by former President Trump, focusing mainly on communities of color. Trump intensified his attacks on election integrity in the months leading up to Election Day, and when Black voters played a decisive role in Biden’s Electoral College victory, it only reinforced the false belief that the election was “stolen.”

Trump has never let up on his false accusations of a stolen election after January 6, and his supporters never stopped trying to silence the Black vote, too. When the bloodthirsty mob failed in its intention to murder former Vice President Pence and overturn the election results on January 6, state legislators took up the voter suppression cause.

The shift into statehouses has forced corporations to play whack-a-mole with their political giving.

In the aftermath of the violence on January 6, a unified corporate response was slow to develop, but a significant number of high-profile business leaders did pledge to stop giving to the 147 members of Congress who voted against certifying President-Elect Biden’s electoral victory. Many followed through on that promise, and their withdrawal of corporate funding could have a significant impact on extremist Republican representatives who depend heavily on support from PACs.

However, now that the voting rights battle has shifted to statehouses, some of those same corporations are being forced to examine their donations to state lawmakers, too.

That puts BPI member banks in an awkward position, even among those who responded aggressively to the January 6 insurrection.

BPI member PNC Financial Services Group (known mostly for its banking subsidiary, PNC Bank), for example, was among those setting a high bar. The company, in addition, has long compiled a credible record on the diversity and inclusion front.

“In the aftermath of the 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol, PNC has indefinitely suspended contributions to all members of Congress who voted against the certification of Electoral College votes for the 2020 Presidential election,” PNC states on its website.

On June 12, PNC also announced a $1 billion economic empowerment initiative focusing on Black communities and other underserved populations.

However, last month PNC also finalized its acquisition of the financial services firm BBVA USA Bancshares Inc. and its U.S. banking subsidiary. That puts PNC front and center in the war on voting rights.

BBVA operates mainly in seven states, and four of those - Alabama, Arizona, Florida, and Texas - have become notorious epicenters of state-based voter suppression activity in various forms, including a fake ballot “audit” in Arizona ordered by Republican lawmakers that threatens to undermine election results across the country.

Best bank practices and voting rights

PNC and other BPI members can help fight back by reading between the lines of 30 Best Practices.

Several leading banks ramped up their voter turnout efforts in 2020, and 30 Best Practices notes that banks have ample opportunity to flex their muscles outside of their own operations, while adhering to state and federal regulations.

“Externally, banks are looking at ways to immediately expand their philanthropic activities and boost their partnerships with other entities in ways that will benefit impacted communities and maximize the desired effects,” BPI notes, while advocating for management to take direction from diverse employees.

“BPI banks know that their philanthropy, partnerships and procurement actions should be driven by consultation with a diverse internal set of stakeholders with an eye towards constantly assessing the positive impact on the communities they serve,” BPI explains.

BPI also emphasizes that diversity hiring can and should have an impact on the philanthropic and community activities of banks.

“Empower bank personnel to assist in selection of philanthropic giving and spur personal involvement by matching your team members’ generosity, tying efforts to workplace giving initiatives,” BPI advises. “Banks are listening to their employees’ recommendations about new potential recipients of grant funding, with new types of organizations and new leaders emerging as potent partners for change.”

If banks are really serious about being potent partners for change, they can find a way to help boot anti-democratic lawmakers out of state and federal office and provide more support for those who advocate for voting rights instead of those abetting voter suppression.

Image credit: Jonathan Cooper/Unsplash

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey