“For God so loved the world that he did not send a committee.” That piece of wisdom, overheard from an unknown source lost in the sands of time, is one that I’ve kept close to my heart over the years.
I’m not saying that committees are terrible. It’s just that, so often, their meetings are overly long, overly dull and there’s always that one guy who asks too many questions.
But when my friend Luis Lobo, an executive vice president and the multicultural banking manager at BB&T Corp., asked me to join an advisory board that helps BB&T approach issues of diversity, I said yes without hesitation.
I know next to nothing about banking — journalism doesn’t exactly stuff our pockets with coin — but Luis’s invitation carries weight with me. And I was curious to learn what a banking institute might have to do with a pressing social issue. (Not that Luis hadn’t told me some.) It was definitely outside my wheelhouse — and that’s part of what made it appealing.
So two weeks ago, I flew to Orlando for a dinner with strangers, followed by a day spent in a windowless conference room, listening to a diverse group of banking associates — African American, Hispanic, Pakistani, Asian — talk about their efforts to reach out to diverse communities.
First of all, Orlando was astounding. Flying in, I was overwhelmed by its sprawl, and thought, there are just too many people here. I stayed downtown and, walking around, observed a mixture of decay, progress and pretty lighting. (I’m afraid there was no time for Disney.)
I do have to give Orlando kudos for its many parks, built around its many lakes.
And the dinner was delightful. I met people from D.C., Virginia, Georgia, Texas and good ol’ North Carolina. We discussed food, family and country music (the real stuff, Cash and Haggard). I heard a lot of confusing acronyms and learned what a bumblebee loan is. (It has a bloated body and tiny wings, but it flies, doesn’t it?)
Then came a day of presentations from bank officers representing branches large and small.
Of course, there was that one guy. And there was an after-lunch lull that made me wonder if time truly was passing.
But in between, I heard what were essentially testimonials from associates, managers and officers who reach out to populations that have been underserved in the past, including African Americans and Hispanics who might have, at times, been suspicious of banks, perhaps for good reason. BB&T has taken some risks, reaching out to groups that were, at the time, controversial. The LGBT community. Dreamers.
Luis has played a substantial role in that.
And what I heard from the banking associates was pride — not in their profit, but in their ability to help people better their lives; pride in providing their clients with the tangible benefits of financial education and solid financial planning. It gives them confidence.
Some of these reps were part of underserved communities themselves before they became bankers. Several told stories that began, “I’ve only been in banking for three years, but …”
Here are some other spoken phrases that stuck with me: We’re a learning organization disguised as a bank. We support the goals of free people living in a free society. It boils down to respecting people.
I flew out of Orlando with a head full of thoughts.
I’m not under any illusions about banks and other financial service institutions — they succeed by making money, and some have been less than scrupulous in achieving that goal. Some of Winston-Salem’s largest financial institutions have been in the news for bad behavior and crimes that will stick to them for decades to come, no matter how many officers they replace. I’m concerned about the move of BB&T’s headquarters to Charlotte, which will draw economic and intellectual resources away from the City of Arts and Innovation, where we could certainly use them. And that new name — I’m not a fan. (O, why do we keep having problems with names?)
But attending the meeting, I learned that many people who work in banking are like people everywhere, and in many professions, from restaurants workers to house cleaners to bureaucrats: They want to help others. They want to make their communities better. They’re good people who want to do good.
I know some here in Winston-Salem, like Tommy Priest and Mary Haglund. Like Luis Lobo. I’ll bet you do, too. For them, it’s not enough to just get a paycheck; they want to contribute.
We need more of them.