On May 11, Woodstock hosted a conversation on the need for and value of Bank Community Benefits Agreements.

Roundtable Participants (from left, above):

Banks are merging at an unprecedented rate. The Federal Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 (CRA) requires that bank regulatory agencies take each institution’s record of providing financial services to their community, as well as public comments, into consideration when making a decision to approve or decline an application to acquire or merge.

As such, these applications provide an opportunity for consumer advocates, fair lending agencies, community organizations and others to have a conversation with each institution about their performance, their impact, and how they can do better. 

Often this results in a Community Benefits Agreement between the bank and advocates. It also creates an opportunity to talk with bank regulatory agencies about how well (or not) they hold their institutions accountable for fair lending, redlining and other discriminatory behavior.

Our panelists discussed the benefit that these agreement can bring, the history of CRA agreements – or what are now more commonly known as Community Benefits Agreements – and broadly reaffirmed the power of organizing to bring resources and innovation to communities.

All acknowledged these agreements are the best alternative for community organizations to pursue given the limited resources to pursue legal action when banks are found to be discriminating in their provision of financial products and services. One panelist went so far as to say that she has “written off” the Federal bank regulatory agencies to properly enforce anti-discrimination laws and regulations because “they’ve become too politicized.”

The video of the Zoom conversation is available above. We look forward to hosting additional brown bag conversations virtually and otherwise on topics of interest to community economic development practitioners.