California Congresswoman Maxine Waters is prioritizing her constituents’ financial needs by demanding banks open up more branches in her district in which the largest ethnic group of residents is Black people. The demands come as research shows African Americans face considerable challenges in accessing bank services for a number of reasons, including proximity.
The ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee held court last weekend while moderating a town hall meeting in Inglewood meant to hold banks accountable.
Representatives from several banks were invited to attend, but Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and U.S. Bancorp all declined, according to the American Banker financial news website.
But executives from City National Bank, PNC Financial Services and Wells Fargo did attend and attempted to answer pointed questions from Waters and her constituents responding to what they said were unfulfilled promises from the financial institutions.
Waters asked the bank executives point-blank when they planned to open banks in her district. The answers left much to be desired.
A rep from City National Bank in Los Angeles, which was ordered in January by the U.S. Department of Justice to open a branch in a Black and Hispanic neighborhood in LA County over racial discrimination allegations, said it was unsure when and where the branch would open.
“I don’t have any announcement on where we’re going to put that branch,” David Cameron, City National’s executive vice president of personal and business banking, responded.
“When are you going to open up a branch in my district?” Waters asked Jeffrey Martinez, the executive vice president and head of branch banking at PNC Bank. “We have a problem with branch banking not being available to us in all of our communities in the way they should be. We call them banking deserts.”
Martinez didn’t have an answer and instead told Waters that she asked “a great” and “important” question about “one of the things we’ve slated” and suggested the delay from the Pittsburgh-based PNC was because it was “new to California.”
Holding PNC to Martinez’s word, Waters said, “We would like to help you find a location,” saying she was “so looking forward to establishing” a branch in her district.
For context, the 43rd Congressional District of California encompasses cities in Los Angeles County like Inglewood, Compton, Hawthorne and Torrance. Census data shows that more than 20% of Waters’ constituents identify as Black, making them the largest ethnic group in the district.
The racial component is important because the absence of accessible financial institutions and services in Black neighborhoods and even countries is part of an unfortunate tradition that dates back centuries, according to research by the Brookings Institution. Those truths have contributed in part to a widening racial wealth gap that has made it harder for Black people in particular to secure everything from simple banking services like deposits up to mortgages, small business loans and more.
This is particularly true on a local level in Black neighborhoods.
“From 2010 to 2021, the U.S. lost over 15,500 bank branches. By 2021, majority Black census tracts were much less likely to have a bank branch than non-majority Black neighborhoods,” Brookings wrote in a 2021 report before adding later: “Census tracts with a higher share of white residents and tracts that are more suburban have a higher number of branches. Between 2010 and 2021, non-majority Black neighborhoods were more likely to experience a decline in the number of bank branches, but only because they were much more likely to have a bank branch in their neighborhood in the first place. After controlling for the initial number of bank branches in 2010, census tracts with higher shares of Black residents were more likely to experience a bank branch closure by 2021.”
A 2019 study confirmed that African Americans are underserved by U.S. banks.
This is America.