image of stacked hands in different skin tones

How Financial Institutions Can Help America Heal

Wall Street Journal


How Financial Institutions Can Help America Heal

Financial tools to pay for education and build wealth should be more widely available.

By Rodney E. Hood

June 4, 2020 6:51 pm ET

image of stacked hands in different skin tones

When I was growing up in North Carolina, my father sat me down for “the talk” about how to behave should I ever find myself in an encounter with a police officer. He wanted me to understand the risks I could face as an African-American should such an encounter go the wrong way.

That was more than 30 years ago. Yet even now the risks my father warned about loom large for minorities in America, as demonstrated by George Floyd’s tragic and deadly Memorial Day encounter with a Minneapolis police officer. I am all too familiar with the heartbreak and pain that so many in the black community experience as they see such events play out repeatedly, and I understand the demand for change from peaceful protesters around the country.

But there’s nothing heartening in the emerging images of violence and property destruction. Violence and vandalism serve no constructive purpose.

President Trump appointed me the first African-American to lead a federal banking regulatory agency, the National Credit Union Administration—the independent agency that oversees the nation’s federally insured credit unions. Since I assumed the chairmanship last year, much of my focus has been on building and reinforcing places that have fallen behind, often in areas where opportunity is limited, like hard-pressed urban neighborhoods and rural communities fighting decline.

Healing begins with strengthening our commitment to diversity and inclusion. Diversity is important, but only if it’s more than simply “checking the right boxes.” Inclusion requires a deep commitment to cultural change. As vice chairman of the Federal Financial Institutions Examinations Council, a formal interagency body that makes recommendations to promote uniformity in the supervision of financial institutions, I have called upon regulators to make inclusion a major priority in the financial industry.

But the change must reach beyond government agencies. Private industry should support inclusive growth. In that regard, it has been encouraging to see so many bank and credit union leaders make supportive statements about diversity and inclusion.

I encourage financial leaders to bolster those statements with a strengthened commitment to community building through financial inclusion. This includes giving more working families access to tools that help them achieve financial independence, providing more young people with the educational and vocational training they need to succeed, and nurturing the material conditions that allow people to prosper and thrive. Each of these will help Americans build stronger communities and a healthier society.

And finally, let’s renew our commitment to having the difficult conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion needed to foster and nurture greater understanding. These aren’t controversial principles. They’re the forces that bring us together and serve as sources of enrichment, strength and unity.

Mr. Hood is chairman of the National Credit Union Administration.