Black banking program was confusing, exec says
By Bekitembe Eric Taylor, Contributing Writer
Special to the NNPA from the Atlanta Voice –
ATLANTA – A highly touted black banking initiative, conceived by nationally syndicated talk show host Warren Ballentine as a powerful community development tool, is being shelved until next year, according to the president of the National Bankers Association.
Confusion about the mission, goals and consumer benefits of the People's Economic Movement (PEM) warrant the delay, said Michael Grant, president of the Washington, D.C.-based organization.
"When he (Ballentine) went on CNN stating that the banks would match consumer deposits into a community development fund, some customers felt as though when they deposited $300, they would get $300 added to their accounts," Grant said in an interview with The Atlanta Voice. "No bank can afford to do that."
Repeated attempts to reach Ballentine by email, telephone and via his social networking page went unanswered over the past several weeks.
The program was patterned after a 2010 project at Farmers and Merchants Bank in North Carolina, where for every deposit into a new account, the bank would match the deposits and invest in a community fund. The bank raised $1 million and donated $10,000 of that to North Carolina A&T University.
Ballentine, whose syndicated radio talk show airs daily in 20 top markets – including Atlanta – announced the new partnership with the National Bankers Association in July, touting the banking initiative as a potent community development and economic empowerment tool.
Since then, he has devoted several segments of his show to the project, urging listeners to open accounts in black banks in several of the nation's largest cities – a call that hundreds of listeners appeared to heed.
But as the initiative became more popular throughout the summer, many listeners appeared unclear about how the program would work, Grant said.
Many new customers apparently believed that for every dollar that they deposited into a black bank, that they themselves would receive matching funds in their own accounts instead of accumulating a community fund, Grant said.
Such confusion could not continue, he said.
"I think Warren did an excellent job in announcing our program, but we are going to re-launch the PEM after the beginning of the year," Grant said.
"If that member bank wants to match funds to go to a college in the community or invest in any other way," he said, "we will leave that up to the banks that will participate."
George Andrews, founder and CEO of Atlanta-based Capitol City Bank & Trust Company, said he agrees with the goals of the program, but has seen virtually no new business as a result of the People's Economic Movement.
Still, he likes the concept. He said the dire state of blacks economically makes it pivotal for blacks to reinvest in African-American banks.
"The unemployment rate among African-Americans is somewhere around 17-18 percent, which is nearly double the national average of 9.1 percent," he said, "with African-American males accounting for 40 percent of that number."
The key to new investment, he said, is education – especially for young people.
"When you educate the children on how to manage money well through the student banking initiative," he said, "it becomes a tool to attract the parents."
Atlanta-based Citizens Trust Bank, meanwhile, reportedly saw growth from program, Grant said. A bank spokesman confirmed that fact, but could not provide details.