Listen to Corvelli McDaniel and Lorraine Cole discuss their work:
There are more than 5,000 financial institutions in the United States, but only 149 are minority-owned banks.
In an effort to help these minority-owned institutions grow and earn new revenue, a collaborative team at the Department of the Treasury, under the leadership of Corvelli McDaniel and Lorraine Cole, launched the Treasury’s Bank Mentor-Protégé Program in 2018. The initiative establishes relationships between the largest U.S. commercial banks as mentors and small and minority-owned banks as protégés.
A major program objective is to keep small banks owned by African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian or Pacific Islander Americans and Native Americans viable so that they can help address the needs of underserved low- and moderate-income communities.
“This landmark program was created to increase the capacity of small and minority-owned banks to better serve their customers and, potentially, the Treasury Department, as well as strengthen their ability to withstand the rigors of the rapidly changing banking industry and economic environment,” said Kim Saunders, president and CEO of the National Bankers Association.
In a short time, the program has generated significant support, with the number of mentor and protégé banks steadily expanding. Currently, seven banks owned or operated by minorities are protégés in the program, with a goal of adding 22 more small banks and 15 more large mentor institutions. JPMorgan Chase, Citi, PNC Bank, U.S. Bancorp and BNY Mellon are currently serving as mentor banks and several others are soon expected to follow. Additionally, Congress has introduced legislation to codify this program into law.
McDaniel, a deputy assistant commissioner at the Department of the Treasury, was instrumental in conceiving the program and putting it into motion internally and through outreach to both the small, minority-owned banks and the larger institutions.
Cole, the Treasury’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, worked behind the scenes to get buy-in and strong support from senior leaders and help them understand the challenges minority-owned banks face. This included meetings between executives of minority-owned banks and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has publicly urged some of the country’s biggest banks to participate in the program.
David Lebryk, the Treasury’s fiscal assistant secretary, said the idea of having large institutions share their expertise with smaller banks rather than treat them as competitors is “something new” and “a sizable achievement” that will grow and have a big impact over time. He said the initiative is the result of “strong teamwork between Corvelli and Lorraine,” who both understood what was possible and made it happen.
One central aspect of the program is helping the small, minority-owned banks increase their revenue and lending power by securing contracts with Treasury to handle a range of financial transactions. Currently, major “financial agent” banks earn fees to process tax returns and passport applications, collect debts and disburse benefit payments, with Treasury paying about $850 million a year for these services.
These contracts were not previously available to minority-owned banks, but McDaniel said the Mentor-Protégé Program can help these small institutions become Treasury financial agents and shore up their own bottom lines by getting help understanding the Treasury’s “expectations, the standards for the processing work and handling information.”
The mentor institution banks are also helping the minority banks in other ways. For example, Citi has been working with Industrial Bank of Washington, D.C., to improve its operations and financial position. After Citi and Industrial Bank began their mentor-protégé partnership in 2018, Industrial Bank upgraded its technology support to customers and recently expanded services beyond Washington by assuming the ownership of banks in New Jersey and New York.
Citi also is working with Unity National Bank, Houston’s only African American-owned bank, which is struggling with profitability, to improve its retail banking capabilities and diversify its operations. This includes the possibility of Unity using Citi’s platform as a conduit for mortgages, credit cards and other consumer products that Unity can’t afford to offer on its own.
Harold Butler, a managing director at Citi, called the program transformative. “It asks banks to participate and then holds them accountable to actually do something about supporting the communities that we all think are important across the country,” Butler said.
Kenneth Kelly, the chairman and CEO of First Independent Bank in Detroit, a small minority-owned bank, described McDaniel and Cole as “pioneers,” providing “the highest level” of leadership that is “creating the opportunities for minority-owned small banks to acquire a unique skill set.”
Kelly, whose bank is being mentored by U.S. Bancorp, said the program is “offering a chance for banks like ours to participate in government contracts that will strengthen their bottom lines and service to the community.”