Black people have had a fraught relationship with banking institutions throughout history. Discrimination, failure, and misfortunes have marked Black customers’ interactions with banks since the 1800s. The reverberations are still being felt today.
In fact, CNN recently reported that a Black couple received a home appraisal that was nearly half a million dollars higher than their previous estimate by other appraisers. What changed? They simply removed all artwork and photos that could show it actually belonged to a Black family.
Additionally, Zillow reported that the majority (59%)of Black homebuyers are concerned about qualifying for a mortgage, while less than half (46%) of White buyers. This is mainly because lenders deny mortgages for Black applicants at a rate 80% higher than that of White applicants, according to 2020 data from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act.
Banking On Us, a new 3-part limited series by Netflix’s Strong Black Lead, discusses these key issues with the help of Hope Credit Union, a Black owned and operated financial institution in Mississippi.
Hope’s CEO, Bill Bynum recently sat down with Essence to talk about his partnership with Netflix, the credit union’s mission to empower small business owners, and building trust with the Black community.
Bill, you’ve built a long, powerful career of empowering Black people to take charge of their financial futures. Did you have early conversations about money in your family?
We didn’t really have conversations about money in my household growing up. My family was a lot like the families we serve at Hope–people who pool their resources together to help each other. That’s what got us through. As a matter of fact, I remember at a very young age my grandmother would take me to the credit union that was located in the garage of my school’s vice principal. That’s where Black folks in the community would bank. We couldn’t go to the local Community Bank and be treated fairly. So, that was our reality.
Because of that particular experience with money, how do you think that shaped your career choice and your own relationship with money?
I knew it was clear that everyone didn’t have equitable access to financial education and life-enriching opportunities, so I felt that was something that needed to be addressed. And fortunately, I really stumbled into a career that allowed me to do that. I got wait-listed for law school and fell into a job with an organization that was providing support to businesses that were closing and trying to convert them to employee-owned businesses. But when we took it to the bank to get financing, people of color, women, blue color, people just didn’t have the same access to capital that others did. And so we decided to start our own credit union and support those businesses. That grew and it’s now one of the largest financial institutions in the country
You actually touched on something that I wanted to ask you about: the complicated relationship that Black people have with banks. What sort of challenges have you faced when working to earn the trust of your customers?
It’s been complicated, without a doubt. We don’t have the benefits of being as well capitalized as our non-Black and brown peers. I’m not really able to do marketing and get the word out about the services we provide. You see billboards, radio and television prominently that have Black and Brown faces on it, but when they go into those places, they’ll find that their services don’t match up with the advertising. In Mississippi, Black households that make $150,000 are more likely to get turned down for a mortgage than a white household. That makes $40,000, which underscores there’s systemic discrimination in the traditional banking system. We have a bit of a hill to climb there. That’s why the opportunity with Netflix was so important for us.
Yes, I can imagine. The series did a great job of laying out some of the barriers that stand in the way of building Black wealth. But they also asked a question that gave me pause, and I’d love you to weigh in on it. The series asked whether Black people are the reason our community can’t seem to reach our fullest potential. Did you have any thoughts on that?
I think the answer to that is literally black and white. It’s not black or white honestly. Certainly there have been contributors that have undermined economic mobility in the Black community but I think the more we can increase asset ownership, get people to go back where they have a stake in the game, we can help right some long standing wrongs.
The series did a fantastic job of highlighting the fact that Hope was really instrumental in helping Black business owners gain access to those PPP loans at the height of the pandemic last year. Since we are moving into another year of a pendant, what are some of the other ways that Hope is helping marginalized communities move closer to financial freedom?
I think if any successful entrepreneur is honest, they would acknowledge they did not get where they are by themselves. We try to play the role of the private banker to help connect them with opportunities. Whether that’s help with managing large contracts or navigating challenging financial situations they’ve never faced before, we hold their hand and help them through. It takes more time and is more labor and cost intensive, but that’s what it takes to close the financial opportunity gap in communities of color.