It could all be so simple But you‘d rather make it hard, loving you is like a battle and we both end up with scars. – Lauryn Hill
Something that should be so simple, HBCUs and other African American organizations, businesses, and other African American institutions have made not just a battle but sometimes it feels like a war. That battle, getting African American institutions to bank with the African American banking system with banks and/or credit unions owned and controlled by – African Americans. It is economic development 101 for other groups, but for African America it is seemingly Calculus III. Based on HBCU Money’s internal research on the matter only two, a PBI and HBCU, are believed to bank with a Black-owned bank. That means that just like the over 90 percent of African Americans who go to college not choosing HBCUs, well over 90 percent of HBCUs do not bank with a Black-owned bank. And in both cases, neither (AAOBs or HBCUs) are able to fulfill their potential as they would with the patronage and investment of those they were built to serve.
We asked the AI app Nova for their take on why HBCUs do not bank with African American owned banks and here was its answer: “There are a few reasons why many HBCUs may not bank with Black-owned banks. One reason is that larger, more established banks often offer more resources and services that HBCUs may need, such as investment services or customized financial solutions. Additionally, some HBCUs may feel more comfortable with larger, more established banks that have a long history of working with educational institutions. However, there has been a growing movement encouraging HBCUs to support Black-owned banks and businesses as a way to promote economic empowerment within the Black community. Many Black-owned banks have a strong commitment to supporting HBCUs, and may offer specialized products and services tailored to their needs.”
Despite AI being quite learned in its contribution to this. There are as they say – levels to this. Not least among them is the plight of public HBCUs lacking autonomy. It would take a massive student and alumni uprising in order to get a public HBCUs moved to an African American owned bank. Ultimately, public HBCUs are controlled by a board or if they are in a system, then a system’s board. In either case, the state’s flagship PWIs carrying the most financial weight and tend to be determinate of how all public universities in the state will behave and most certainly likely where they will bank. And while it is complicated to wrangle the institutional banking of public HBCUs into African American owned banks, their proxy organizations like alumni associations and foundations that serve them should not have anywhere near the issue of banking Black. Then there are the private HBCUs who have far more autonomy with their banking decisions and yet it seems potentially only one private HBCU actually banks Black. It is almost befuddling in the case of the Alabama and Georgia HBCUs not to bank Black. They both have two African American Owned Banks in headquartered in their states. Morehouse specifically just a few years ago had one of their alumni bring back African American owned banking to Oklahoma when alumnus Kevin Perry purchased controlling interest in First Security Bank & Trust. In fact, 14 of the 15 states and territories where there are African American owned banks have HBCUs/PBIs in them with Wisconsin being the lone exception.
African America’s flagship HBCU, Howard University, two years ago entered into a partnership with PNC Bank to create the PNC National Center for Entrepreneurship housed at Howard University. PNC’s Foundation providing Howard University with a rather obtuse $3.4 million a year grant for five years. PNC Bank is based in Pittsburgh,PA, its executive team in 2022 commanded $81 million in compensation, and the bank has assets over $550 billion – an amount that is over 100 times the size of all 16 remaining African American Owned Banks’ assets combined. We think Marcus Garvey just rolled over in his grave. Meanwhile, right in Howard University’s backyard is Industrial Bank, an African American Owned Bank with $723 million in assets, meaning PNC Bank has over 760 times the amount of assets of Industrial. There is in fact only one African American Owned Bank that has over $1 billion in assets, Liberty Bank & Trust in Louisiana.
That HBCU presidents and AAOB CEOs do not have closer relationships simply speaks to the island mentality that African American institutions as a whole have. Although our community loves to parrot the harsh reality of an African American dollar that does not circulate in our community’s even 6 hours while “the average lifespan of the dollar is approximately 28 days in Asian communities, 19 days in Jewish communities, 17 days in white communities”, according to a piece by the FAMUAN (see how we are circulating HBCU media capital). This has done nothing to make HBCU administrators understand that the circulation of the African American institutional dollar is far more impactful than the African American consumer collar. Despite as recently as 2017, there were four African American Owned Banks with HBCU alumni as CEOs. It is also not just on HBCUs, but AAOBs should be doing a better job of heavily pursuing those HBCUs that do have the autonomy to decide where they bank and forging deep relationships with them at multiple levels.
By forging that relationship HBCUs and AAOBs can multiply the probability of opportunities and profitability. That way when an HBCU alum creates the next Google, SpaceX, FedEx, or other Fortune 500 company, then they will already know the importance of banking with an AAOB and hiring HBCU alumni. It will be understood because the intentionality of our ecosystem’s success will be modeled and molded and as a result our community is empowered with success a rule and not the outlier it operates in now as so many of us continue to try and build a nation as an island instead of forging together.