Thursday, September 29, 2022

Executive News: Next big hurdle: DEI, compliance concerns

We’ve all been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, some more than others.

As many of you who read this column know, my wife and I have been self-quarantined since mid-March. Most days I work

Photo of Roger M. Beverage
Roger Beverage, OBA President and CEO

from home and I find the environment surprisingly calm and productive.

On at least a weekly basis, I go to the office when no one else is there. I check the mail, read a number of publications I don’t get at home and generally address more supervisory matters, and make sure I’m up to speed on things.

In doing so, I’ve learned a couple of things. First of all, the pandemic has accelerated the use of digital banking, primarily because of in-person banking safety challenges. Many of the best banks across the country excel in meeting their customers where the customer wants to be, not where the bank wants him or her to be.

Simply put, some customers prefer to get service at a branch but, in some cases, the option is not available. Some want to do everything online or on their phone, and successful banks have adapted to those customer preferences in a big way, rather than forcing the customers to do it the bank’s way.

Secondly, there’s a more troublesome issue that affects both your bank’s staff and your customer base. I’m talking about George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and the protests that sprang up across the nation, with multiple allegations of police brutality, mostly by white police officers shooting Blacks and other minorities. Over time, this type of discrimination and allegations of police brutality expanded the field for other allegations of “discrimination.”

“What are you talking about?” you may ask. Good question. What I’m talking about is a concern I’ve had for months: How will federal banking regulators view a bank’s DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) policies going forward, especially in areas outside of our state’s three metropolitan statistical areas.
Here are a few other kinds of “isms” that serve as the basis for allegations of identity-based oppression and discrimination:

Able-ism — People living with one or more disabilities.

Age-ism — Factors involving age discrimination against both young and old alike.

Allyship — A series of acts using a privilege to defend/support a person or group that doesn’t have the same “privilege” that you do.

Cancel Culture — Participating in publicly shaming actions (usually on social media) and withdrawing support for a public figure or company that makes or supports statements that are offensive to one or more marginalized group (closely related to the “MeToo” movement).

LGBTQ — Gay and transgender customers and employees.

Macro- and Microaggression — Overt or subtle acts with underlying hostility or derogatory statements that show the dominance of a “privileged” (‘advantages’) group toward a marginalized group or individual.

These are just a few of the ways federal banking regulators might look at discriminatory practices when the community or communities in which a bank operates do not have a diverse population in terms of color or race.

As we approach Nov. 3, I understand there may be a new sheriff in town, so to speak. Anything can happen between now and the first Tuesday in November. Not only is it possible that there’s a new sheriff in town, but there may also be a new Congress.

I get how and why allegations of the traditional kinds of discrimination can be made in MSAs. What I don’t get is how it operates, or is supposed to operate, across the rest of the state. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about.

I grew up in a fairly small town in Nebraska. The population was, roughly, 6,500 people. There was only one bank in my hometown when I was a little kid. Two more appeared after I left for college.

There was no diversity, of any kind, in my hometown when I was growing up. The community was made up exclusively of white people. There were no minorities as we normally think of them, like Blacks and Hispanics. My best friend was of Italian heritage, but no one ever thought of Italians as a “minority,” other than my big brother.

Fast forward 75 years to today. The population continues to hover around 6,500-7,000 people. It’s still made up of white people, for the most part. I’m told there are now 10 minority families that live in or near to my hometown.

Over the past 75 years, my hometown has increased its minority population from “zero percent” to 0.00142857 percent. What? In the past 75 years that’s it? A 0.00142857 percent increase in minorities that live in the community?

Unfortunately, the answer is “yep.”

So now bring it home to Oklahoma. How do banks in such a town establish a minority-focused culture of any kind when there simply aren’t any or many Black or Hispanic families that live or work there? How do they employ “minorities” if there aren’t any? How then do they include minorities on their board of directors? How can they implement a broad outreach effort to prospective minority customers within the local community trade area?

Dad-gummed if I know, especially when I think about DEI matters that look much different than most of us are used to seeing when there simply isn’t a traditionally diverse population in the bank’s operating area. But what I fear is that examiners will start looking at these other “isms” like the ones noted above that will support allegations of discrimination.

This is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night. Stay tuned.