Banks serve a vital role in the U.S. economy and financial system but many Upstate banks are realizing their roles must extend beyond that of a trusted lender and business partner — they must also be good corporate citizens.
As a result, many are investing more than ever in the community through sponsorships, employee engagement and leadership. Some have created executive-level positions entirely dedicated to leveraging everything the bank has to offer in the name of building stronger, more robust community connections.
In the Upstate, Moryah Jackson at United Community Bank and Ginny Stroud at United Bank are just two examples of bank employees whose position is community-focused. Jackson, for example, is a vice president of the bank in her role as director of community engagement.
There are also marketing opportunities in sponsoring community events that could bring in new talent and new customers while maintaining relationships with existing clients. Those events bring a sense of corporate citizenship, Upstate banking executives said.
An aspect of engagement is also prompted by the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, which encourages banks to meet the credit needs of low- to middle-income communities. Further, the law requires regulators to monitor how well banks fulfill their community’s credit needs.
“We strongly believe that providing excellent service extends beyond banking to our employees, our customers, our shareholders and our communities,” said Stroud, who is United Bank’s senior community reinvestment specialist. That includes volunteering expertise and donating money to nonprofit organizations.
She said United Bank approaches community engagement by finding areas of most concern in its markets. “We look for innovative ways to solve community problems by tackling financing challenges that may not fit the traditional lending criteria.”
Upstate banks are confronting financial literacy, affordable housing, hunger, racial equity and host of other topics in the communities they serve. Banks engage in these topics mostly through philanthropic endeavors and supporting volunteer opportunities for employees.
Leveraging philanthropic efforts with expertise in the community
Banks engage in the community in a variety of ways, including through sponsorships, donations and others financial contributions.
In the Upstate, it isn’t uncommon for banks to be featured sponsors to various events. TD Bank has contributed to several well-known events in Greenville, including Artisphere and the TD Saturday Market. United Community Bank has sponsored Ice on Main since 2012 and has now become a title sponsor for the Reedy River Run, said Moryah Jackson, vice president and director of community development and engagement at United Community Bank. Funding for those initiatives has come from the foundation United Community Bank created in 2020. She said so far, $10 million has gone to the foundation.
“Our foundation was established so we could help improve the financial health of the local communities that we serve,” Jackson said.
“We’ve been the presenting sponsor of Artisphere since its inception about 19 years ago and we’ve been the title sponsor of the TD Saturday Market since it was founded in 2003,” Fincher said.
Several banks also host workshops for the community and in local schools on financial literacy. United Bank is organizing with Greenville County Schools a “Teach Children to Save” campaign, said Stroud.
“We’re taking our financial expertise and teaching the next generation of citizens good money management skills,” she said.
Local banks also encourage employees to support their communities by sitting on executive boards of Upstate nonprofit organizations where they can provide financial knowledge to the organizations.
Upstate banks also provide their services to nonprofits in times of uncertainty, they say, like during the pandemic.
“When the pandemic began, one of the first things we did as an organization was to proactively connect with our community partners with whom we have had a relationship and say, ‘Number one, what did they, as an organization, need from us as their bank?”’ said Cal Hurst, chief banking officer of Southern First Bank in Greenville.
Other banks utilized their connections and supply chain to donate sanitizer and other needed items to local nonprofit groups. For example, Bank of America provided 404 cases of hand sanitizer, 158,000 masks and 50,000 gloves to nonprofits in the Upstate, according to the bank’s Upstate SC President Stacy Brandon.
Supporting hands-on engagement from employees
Banks often offer employees the chance to be part of the organization’s community engagement opportunities.
“There’s really an expectation that employees will give their time and their talent to improve the communities where we work,” Stroud said.
Other banks will match donations made by their employees.
Many local banks partner with Meals on Wheels to sponsor routes or drive meals to homebound clients. Allison Timmons, GrandSouth Bank’s senior vice president and director of compliance said in an email, “This opportunity was especially important when lockdowns were occurring. Their visits helped to connect some of these individuals who were otherwise isolated.”
The sentiment was echoed by Bruce Benson, retail market manager at TD Bank. “I’ve got [many employees] that feel a passion for Meals on Wheels. Sometimes those people that they’re delivering those meals to, it’ll be the only engagement they’ll have with anybody that day,” he said.
Other banks support employees donating to different groups in the community. At Bank of America, the bank will match up to $5,000 a year for donations to most nonprofit groups, said Brandon. “In the last five years in Greenville, we had over $775,000 given and matched by our employees in the Upstate.”
She added that Bank of America employees have logged over 23,000 hours volunteering in the Upstate over the past five years. And even with the restrictions due to the pandemic, Brandon said the Upstate’s Bank of America branches logged 3,000 hours of volunteering last year.
As the pandemic rolled in, Bank of America employees couldn’t do their normal volunteer effort of providing snack packs to children. Instead, they delivered books to schools in low- to middle-income areas in Greenville, Spartanburg and Anderson. Brandon said employees left encouraging notes in the books for students to find.
“We’re always looking for ways to impact things for the better in our community. It’s just in our DNA and who we really try to be as an organization,” said Brandon.
TD Bank employees volunteered more than 2,000 hours in South Carolina last year, according to Benson. “To be able to give back to those organizations and nonprofits that our teammates are a part of pays great dividends,” he explained. People see TD Bank employees out in the community and know that the bank is active.
Other opportunities include food drives, blood drives and participating in home restoration projects.
“As a local community bank we live in the communities that we serve,” United Community Bank’s Jackson said. “We know our neighbors, and it’s just really important for us to be a part of the positivity and the energy of those communities.”