M&T Bank should appoint Betty Jean Grant to its Board of Directors

Betty Jean Grant may be retiring from the County Legislature (a body that she once chaired), but her supporters know she isn’t going anywhere.  With the sheer force of her honest, humble, unwavering style, she has earned greater esteem in the body politic than any contemporary political figure — perhaps even beyond that of George K. Arthur and Arthur O. Eve.

The region’s largest corporations should see the value that an association with Grant can bring to their brands and their ability to engage successfully with the region’s African American community.

M&T Bank has been investigated by federal regulators for longstanding banking practices.  Critics say that the firm has financed the region’s sprawl, profiting wildly by burdening taxpayers with unsustainable infrastructure costs.

Many attribute the region’s socio-spatial segregation patterns to practices of redlining, which largely continues today.  The firm’s racially incongruent lending practices have resulted in Buffalo being listed among the most segregated regions in the nation.

The company refuses to open bank branches in underserved communities and almost entirely lacks a presence on the city’s East Side. The bank’s loan portfolio has profited enormously by offering mostly white families mortgages for suburban dwellings, while maintaining “excruciatingly conservative” lending standards for mortgages in minority neighborhoods.

Activists have criticized the firm’s lackluster efforts to recruit minorities for management positions at the bank, which suffers from a stark lack of diversity at the executive level.  They assert that racially biased hiring practices are to blame. M&T Bank has not released employment data that refutes the criticism.

When evaluating potential successors to the recently deceased longtime CEO of the bank, not a single woman or minority was even considered for the role.

Members of the African American community are particularly enraged, because of the institution’s role in funding the “Education Reform Agenda,” which is seen — rightly or wrongly — as an effort to privatize the public education system. Prominent activists and education leaders in the African American community suspect that corporate leaders at the Bank may be plotting a “mass gentrification effort.”  The bank would profit on the new urban mortgage market, and in construction related lending.

Instead, M&T must engage the African American community with a newfound relationship with a proactive lending strategy specific to that community.

Betty Jean Grant, as one of the community’s most trusted figures, can help transform M&T’s relationship with the Black community in areas as ranged as diversifying supply chains with minority contractors, recruiting minorities to the firm’s workforce, identifying commercial lending opportunities in the community, and promoting homeownership lending.

Appointing her to the Board of Directors would send a powerful message that the institution wants to make meaningful amends.

Other firms, too, would gain brand value from an association with Grant:  National Fuel, R&P Oak Hill, and Kaleida Health, for instance.  The newfound capacity to communicate with, and market to, this community could be very powerful in executing each firm’s market strategy.

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