Black banking execs on what needs to be done to sustain changes in the finance industry after George Floyd’s murder

The finance industry can point to tangible progress for Black workers since the Black Lives Matter protests last year. But change isn’t coming fast enough, a half dozen executives said during Bloomberg Television’s “Money and Equality” special report on Friday.

“Generations who are coming into the workforce today are way less tolerant and accepting of ‘It’s going to take time.’ How about now? How about now? And if not, why not?,” said Edith Cooper, a longtime Goldman Sachs Group Inc. executive who left the firm in 2017. “That’s the sentiment that we’re all feeling. I’m excited by that. It means that we just won’t be patient.”

A year ago, there was just one Black executive among more than 80 within the highest ranks of the big six U.S. banks. Today, there are nine. Many of the biggest banks have also implemented targets for hiring more underrepresented workers and pledged to increase recruiting at historically Black colleges and universities.

Still, workforce statistics show that Black people make up a small fraction of the banking industry. And while in 2020 the six biggest U.S. banks earmarked almost $15 billion for mortgages, entrepreneurs and Black-owned banks across the country, it’s a small fraction of their $4 trillion in outstanding loans.

Here’s what some of the most senior Black bankers in the industry said about how progress can be sustained.

‘Don’t go for the easy fix’

Last year, Kristy Fercho became the first Black woman to lead Wells Fargo & Co’s home lending business. At a bank that has long had a culture of promoting from within, she’s been pushing for more outside hires—even if the process takes longer.

She described a recent hiring process where one of her direct reports wanted to bring on a White male after just a three-week search. She told him to keep looking. After another month they tapped a Hispanic woman for the role. “As a result I have a more qualified, better candidate, and she happens to be diverse,” Fercho said. “Don’t go for the easy fix, that’s what’s in front of you, but work harder to find the best talent.”

‘Definitely not enough’

After more than three decades on Wall Street, Carla Harris, a vice chairman of global wealth management and a senior client adviser at Morgan Stanley, wants her industry to do more. As for the commitments made so far, “It definitely is not enough,” she said.

Harris worries the efforts will wane when economic hardships arise. “The minute we get in a bear-market environment, it doesn’t go away, but the intensity goes from 10 to two,” she said. “You have restructuring, you have reductions in force, and small populations are by definition disproportionately hurt.”

The question still plaguing Wall Street and corporate America, Harris said, is: “How do we implement something that’s going to be sustainable?”

‘Wrong side’ of the trade

Harold Butler, who oversees banking services with the U.S. government at Citigroup Inc., said optics are driving some change, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“There’s an old saying that Wall Street often times used, which is you don’t want to be on the wrong side of that trade,” Butler said. “Largely corporations have said, ‘I want to be a part of—and make sure that my customers, and everyone views my corporation as—participating and doing the right thing.’ Because this is what needs to be done.”

—With assistance from Lananh Nguyen.

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