Our interview with Terri Williams, President of OneUnited Bank was one of the most informative interviews we have done to date. There is much to know and much to learn about banking finance and how to maintain your own financial security. We thank Ms. Williams, OneUnited Bank and Unity Visa on education, information, persistence and tenacity in making this an important agenda in the minority and underserved communities.
Teri Williams, President
Ms. Williams is responsible for implementation of the Bank’s strategic initiatives, as well as the day-to-day operations of the bank. These operational areas include all retail branches, marketing, compliance, lending, information technology, customer support, legal and human resources. Under her leadership, OneUnited Bank has consolidated the local names and product offering of four banks to create a powerful brand supported by innovative products and services. She brings 25 years of financial services expertise from premier institutions such as Bank of America and American Express, where she was one of the youngest Vice Presidents. Ms. Williams holds an MBA with honors from Harvard University and a BA with distinctions from Brown University.
What is The IMAgE Of OneUnited Bank
Our image is a combination of things. First, we are a FDIC Insured bank, and that is something we don’t take for granted. There are very few black owned banks and very few minority banks. Banking is a really important asset to any community. We are inclusive. What I mean by that is the banking industry has a history of not being inclusive. Whether it is Red Lining or promoting sub prime mortgages. When you look at the banking industry you rarely see the diversity that you see in other industries. Banking is very late in becoming diverse. There are very few banks with a president or CEO’s that are black, a minority or even Jewish for that matter. When you look at OneUnited Bank whether you go into one of our branches, Facebook page or website, you see a diversity that is something unique to the banking industry. The way we want people to perceive us and the way we present ourselves is one of, serving the community and not trying to make the “last buck” as I call it. So we really do offer products and services that are affordable and are structured in a way that they don’t take advantage of our customers and our community. So, a caring inclusive bank is how we describe our image.
Back in the 60’s 70’s and into the 80’s, banks were making decisions to offer services and mortgages in certain communities and not others. One of the things for people who are not in banking may not realize is that mortgages are not just for you as an individual, they are also what support the value of community. So if you can’t get a mortgage in your community that means you can’t buy or sell your home for a good price. Not only were they red lining or drawing red lines around communities and saying we will not be doing mortgages here, they were hurting individuals who were looking to buy in that community. They were also hurting the value of that community because people couldn’t sell their home and buyers couldn’t get a mortgage to buy a home in that community.
This practice was revealed by several studies and the federal government had to step in and come up with regulations to prohibit red lining. Now banks are required by the federal government to provide data on where they are lending, what the approval rate is on the loan, what the interest rate is on the loan, the characteristics of the borrowers and the government analyzes that data to ensure that the banks are not red lining or discriminating. This was a dark history of banking in America. and what it did during that time was bolster the value of the suburban homes which is where most whites lived and devalued the homes in the inner city and urban communities which is where the majority of the Blacks and Latinos lived.
Our focus is primarily on consumers, families and children. We try to educate individuals and communities on how to save to improve credit and really change their life.
There are certain facts that people don’t know about prepaid Cards like the Rush Card. They do have the Visa or Master card logo but it is a debit card. What that means is they don’t report to the 3 credit bureaus so it doesn’t help you build or rebuild your credit. In my view this like being a second-class credit citizen. If you have bad credit and you get a pre-paid card, it allows you to carry a card in your wallet but you’re really not a part of the credit card industry. Now here’s the important thing, all the money that is going to these prepaid cards and fees are not helping you. Secure cards are similar to prepaid cards in that you post a deposit and you get a card but the difference is with a secure card, your activity is reported to the credit bureaus. So when you use the secure credit card and pay it down all of that activity is going to the credit bureau and that will help you build your credit. In addition, the Unity Visa card don’t charge all the fees. Prepaid cards charge a fee to get the card, to load the card and to check the balance. There are a lot of fees associated with these cards which is why a lot of companies are offering these cards. So we’re trying to get the message out to our community that has been enticed by marketing campaigns and celebrities to carry the prepaid cards. We have been trying to educate people and let them know they need a Unity Visa card so they can avoid the fees and rebuild their credit.
It is a secure account and we do offer our card at a lower interest. than other institutions that offer cards at a much higher interest rates than we do. We elected to offer the lower interest on the card instead of the deposit. It is FDIC insured and your deposit and card can be returned at anytime.
Credit bureaus evaluate your financial history; how many credit lines you have, how you pay them, do you pay them late or do you pay them on time. They look at your history and use a model to come up with a score. That score represents what type of risk you are to a provider of credit. The lower the score the higher the risk, the higher the score the better candidate you are for credit. Credit scores ranges between 350 -900. Anything below 600 is considered a poor or bad credit score. If you have a bad credit score, it is hard to get a loan, rent an apartment or buy a home. It is hard to get a car loan and can even affect you in getting a job because some jobs check you credit score for viability. In the past when they would say you have the “haves and the have nots” was used, it refer to who had money who did not . Now it relates to those who have a good credit score and those who do not. Our goal is to help people become the “haves” and improve their credit score credit score.
We do feel the message is getting out there. We have a Unity Visa Facebook page that is grow faster than the bank Facebook page. People are starting to understand the importance of credit.
OneUnited Bank wants to reach all communities with our message and our Unity Visa Card. We are looking to attract more diversity than the other banks. We find ourselves being one of a few that advertise in diverse places to serve the Black and Latino population. When we look at businesses we focus on advertising in the minority community. We look for outlets to get our messages out to the Black and the Latino community. We do our advertising in Spanish as well as English to serve these populations. We are on Facebook and we see that friends are referring us to other friends and businesses referring us to their customers. We are attracting diversity of a higher proportion of Black and Latinos. We do believe in order for us as a community to succeed we really do need to know about banking, financial services and we need to become financially literate. One of the things we offer now that we have launched the Unity Visa card is how to rebuild credit. We also educate our community about credit and credit scores and programs on what you can do to rebuild your credit. A lot of us were affected by this last recession and their credit got slammed. So what we’re trying reach out to the community and say, “You can come back and these are some of the steps you can take to come back.
Most Americans are not as educated or as sophisticated about financial matters as we should be so it not a Black or ethnic issue. We think Banking and personal financial matters should be taught in schools because banks have a way of communicating. They use a lot of acronyms and say things that people don’t understand so the black community is no worse off than other communities. What I will say is the way we communicate the message is different and we try to make it interesting and make it relevant to the challenges in our community. So if you look at our Facebook page and our website what you’ll see is how we make the financial literacy a priority to underserved communities.
Being black owned, we believe that every black person should have an account with a black bank. It doesn’t have to be the only account. We are available online so you can get an account with OneUnited Bank and you can get a Unity Visa online from anywhere in the country. Even if you are not located in one of the communities that we service such as Los Angeles, Boston or Miami, you will be supporting the communities that we serve and you get information and education about financial matters from someone you can trust and someone that has your back.
Black Owned and Minority Banks
We are part of the National Bankers Association, which is the oldest trade association of banks in America. There are fewer than 100 black minority banks in the country. There are very few Jewish CEO’s or Jewish banks for that matter. It has been predominately a white Anglo Saxon Protestant industry. There has not been a lot of diversity. It has mainly been mostly male and not many female. Things have improved and there is more diversity than there was 20 – 30 years ago but there is still more need for diversity.
I hope there will be more women, and black women in the industry. It is needed. There are initiatives to increase the diversity but there are some areas that need to be improved, in how women, blacks and black women are received by the industry. There still are some limitations and glass ceilings that need to be worked on.
To find out more about OneUnited Bank, Unity Visa and other services offered and please visit www.oneunited.com
Teri Williams President – OneUnited Bank