Bank of America (B of A), prides itself on offering valuable support, banking, investing, asset management, and other resources to businesses, large corporations, and individual consumers. However, very few community members are aware of the presence B of A has in the South Los Angeles area. Recently, the Los Angeles Sentinel met with one of the world’s leading financial institutions to discuss their Black Executive Leadership Team (BELT) and the positive work they are committed to in the Black community.
According to Bank of America’s senior vice president, strategy execution manager in consumer lending, Telebah Woods, the Bank of America BELT program was created “as a strategic and thoughtful approach to best serve the community, following the recession with associates who know the community best.”
As stated in program’s mission, the purpose of BELT is to “serve as brand ambassadors to the clients, companies, non-profits, and influencers that represent the African American community in Los Angeles. [BELT accomplishes] this by being champions of responsible enterprise growth and community engagement to deliver power of Bank of America to the key stakeholder in L.A.’s African American community.”
Currently, the BELT program consists of 16 Black senior employees and leaders with an average of 20 plus years in the financial services industry. All of the BELT members serve on at least one or two non-profit boards and live in either the South Los Angeles or the greater Los Angeles area, which gives them the opportunity to better connect and understand the issues faced by local residents.
“It [BELT] focuses on different areas of business within the company. I am in home loans and Anthony is in commercial banking, and we have others who do an array of things like small business, Merrill Lynch, finance investment,” said Woods.
“Externally, our focus has been to drive financial literacy and building that foundation of financial literacy within the community through programs we have like Better Money Habits, [which gives us] that pathway to be able to volunteer and connect with our community in a way that is a little bit different than I think if we were doing it on our own.”
Another way Bank of America has been able to grow its community engagement is by maintaining a presence in the African American community.
“In South Central and South L.A. alone, we actually haven’t closed any financial branches in over 20 years, so we have maintained dozens of them,” said spokesperson Collen Haggerty.
“So this year, we were looking to consolidate branches, where we had a lot of redundancy, meaning there were other [branches] nearby. In this case, we decided to consolidate two of them; one on Western and one on Crenshaw. Within a mile and a half of those two, there are still seven branches. We felt comfortable that we had such as overwhelming presence there. [However,] these were branches that for financial reasons, low volume, or low foot traffic, we knew that we could still maintain the level of customer service in that community but pull back some.”
Since the start of the program, BELT has seen positive outcomes for local youth and families. Through one of the programs they do with Junior Achievement, BELT members have been able to work with 120 at-risk youth and their parents at Finance Park in Burbank to teach them about budgeting, taxes, the IRS, and other related financial literacy tools and resources.
“We have been doing this program for close to five years now,” said Anthony D. Turner, senior vice president / senior relationship manager in the Los Angeles Metropolitan office of the Global Commercial Banking Group.
“I have had some kids, who have gone off to college say, ‘that program saved me. Once I got to school, I was able to budget. I didn’t get in trouble with my credit cards, and I understood the importance of my FICO score…’ They said it really gave them a head start compared to their classmates who were struggling with balancing money.”
Through the community engagement activities and events like the Junior Achievement and the Taste of Soul Family Festival, BELT is able to prove that they not only walk-the-walk but talk-the-talk.
The future of the BELT program can be summed up in three objectives: (1) grow their business, (2) grow their brand, and (3) grow their talent.
“We have done a pretty job at establishing relationships with the business leaders in the community, the non-profit leaders, and some community activists,” said Turner.
“I think we continue to develop those relationships, and continue to be there for community and educate them as to what the bank can do. Our community is underserved and [they] don’t know everything the bank has to offer, so it’s our job to make sure we get out there and explain the power the bank has to offer specifically to the Black community.”
Turner and Woods go on to say that the next step is brand awareness to ease the frustration in the referral process.
“When you have an issue, whatever it is, and you don’t know exactly who to call, it’s always good when you have an advocate. Whatever it is … bank related, [we] can take care of you or get you to the right person,” said Turner.