BOSSIP Exclusive: Terri Williams President And COO Of One United Bank, Largest Black Owned Bank In The U.S. Answers Our Questions

- By Bossip Staff
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Terri Williams Addresses Questions About Black Banks, One United

In recent weeks we’ve seen tremendous growth in the number of new accounts being opened by black people at black owned banks. We reached out to Terri Williams, President and COO of One United Bank — the largest U.S. black owned bank to discuss what their institution offers account holders and to address fears people may still have about opening an account with a black owned bank.

BOSSIP: Talk to us about the upsurge in business as of late? Are the reports being exaggerated or is this real growth you are seeing?

Terri Williams: Website visits, branch visits, account generation have all increased tenfold. It’s really fabulous not just for us, but really part of a broader message and vision that we as a community are having a broader awareness of the importance of our dollars.

BOSSIP: How does banking black help the community?

TW: It’s not just banking black it’s actually buying black. It’s the broader point of buying black. I try to share with people that having dollars circulate through a community is how wealth is built… In any community, not just the black community. In our community, our dollars circulate for six hours on average before they leave. In the Asian American community, they circulate for 28 days. In the Jewish community, 19 days. Within six hours we’re spending our dollar in other communities and building the wealth of other communities. Whereas they’re visiting Asian restaurants, using Asian-American plumbers, etc… We’re the largest black owned bank, but the largest Asian American owned bank is worth something like 19 billion dollars. So other communities understand this much better than we do as a community.

To some degree it’s understandable because we had to fight you know, going back to slavery and Jim Crow. I like to focus on the positive and look at how far we’ve come as opposed to looking at it as a negative. We have made a lot of strides from where we’ve come, but we still have a ways to go. And this particularly, the awareness of the importance of our dollars, is so critical to building wealth in our community. So it’s more than putting money in a black bank it’s also buying black. Circulating our dollars more in our community.

What a bank does, and this is the other thing that people don’t understand is a bank actually recycles dollars. That’s what our role is. You put your deposit in the bank and those dollars are re-circulated throughout the community by who we hire and the lending that we do, and the investments that we make. So all we do is take the funds that are deposited and deploy them back into the community, that’s what banks do. It is more than banking black it really is buying black.

BOSSIP: How have you worked to get that message out? We noticed you offer financial literacy classes.

TW: We offer Financial literacy classes, but what I will say is that the message that I have just provided is more important to get that message out even more than financial literacy ,such as how to help yourself build your credit or how you can help prevent getting scammed. Those are more personal messages. But this call to action by Killer Mike, as well as others like Solange is really to me providing an opportunity for us to have a broader conversation about the fact that black money matters. And that it matters to us as a community and it’s just important to us again to not just bank black but buy black.

BOSSIP: Are all of the One United Branches located in primarily black poor communities?

TW: Yes. All of our branches except for one are located in black minority, low to moderate income communities. In Boston we are in Roxbury and Dorchester; in LA we are in South Central and Compton; in Miami we are in Liberty City. We employ people from the community and we are involved in a lot of community organizations in each of our markets. And we offer products and services that are affordable and that help the community in terms of, we didn’t do any sub-prime lending; we do first time homebuyers lending, we don’t charge outrageous overdraft fees. We are for responsible products and people can trust us. We could make more money if we were doing what the other banks were doing, but our role is not to make the most amount of money, it’s really to serve the community.

BOSSIP: We noticed you guys offer secure credit cards as well. Are those rates reasonable? We’ve heard negative things about the rates for prepaid cards and Rush cards

TW: The difference between a prepaid card like a Rush card and a secured card, is a secured card can actually help you rebuild your credit, because we report to the credit bureau unlike the Rush card. In addition we don’t charge all of those fees that prepaid cards charge. Our interest rate is a reasonable rate for someone who doesn’t have great credit – cause that’s why you’d get it, to improve your credit. And it’s a fixed rate. A lot of banks that offer these secured cards have a variable rate which can go up, but our rate is fixed.

I think another thing that is important for our community is we need to start to trust each other. We are FDIC insured. People can put their money in the bank and not have to be concerned about it’s safety. We offer online banking and mobile banking.You can pay by text with us. You can take a picture of your check and deposit it. People think ‘oh the bank’s Black, I have to accept less services,’ when the reality is we actually have better services than most banks. So we as a community have gotten to a point where we actually do offer things that are better for our community than others, but we’ve come from a history of not trusting each other and we do have to get over that.

BOSSIP: What is the fee to have a checking account with One United?

TW: With a direct deposit it’s free. Same with savings. No limit on transactions per month. And like I said we have wonderful services. We have free online banking, we bill pay, we have great customer service. If customers are having an issue they can call us, send us a message. People have even sent us messages on Facebook and we’ve gotten right back to them. We also offer interest bearing checking accounts. Now the amount you have to deposit is higher, but we offer one of the highest interest rates on a checking account in the country.

BOSSIP: When it comes to the other black owned banks is there any type of community organizing with each other?

TW: Yes. The National Bankers Association is a trade organization that is really for minority banks, but it includes all of the black banks, and we meet regularly, at least once a year, but sometimes two or three times a year. So we all know each other. And we’ve all been doing this for many years. Most of the black banks were created during the civil rights era when other banks used to not work with us at all. This idea of banking black and garnering our spending power and channeling it back into our community is age old. You can go back to Marcus Garvey. Our civil rights leaders have been talking about this for decades. It’s just now we have the technology to actually do it. So now if you’re black in America but you live in a small town, you can still bank black.

BOSSIP: What would you advise someone who doesn’t live in a city where there is a local black bank?

TW: Go to OneUnited.com and open up an account to participate in this movement. It’s very simple. You can open up a savings account and deposit $100. And if we can get a million of us to do that, that’s $100 million dollars. So that’s a great way for people to participate. It’s easy to do. FDIC insured. And become a part of what I’m calling this Black Money Matters Movement.

BOSSIP: Just one last question for people who still might be hesitant. The number of black banks has decreased from 48 to 21. Is it decreasing because they weren’t FDIC insured or the doors are actually closing because they don’t see the business?

TW: No one has lost money by banking with a FDIC insured bank. There’s no way to lose your money by putting your money in a black bank. We are all FDIC insured. So that shouldn’t be a concern, that should really be off the table. Your money is safe. Banks in general have declined and consolidated. One United Bank is actually four banks that have been rolled up to be the largest black owned bank. So banks are consolidating. Some of them are closing but when they do, people don’t lose their money.

What do you think about Ms. Williams’ answers? Have you started banking black yet? Do you plan to?

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