OneUnited Bank’s President Teri Williams Explains Why It’s Smart To Bank Black — Just like Solange

July 15, 2016  |  

Earlier this week Solange Knowles announced she put her money into a Black-owned bank in light of the police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. And she took to Instagram to encourage her followers to do the same, writing “While I realize this is a very personal decision and thing to share, I’m proud to say I made that step today, she wrote July 9. “Time to literally put my money where my mouth is.”

Solange is not the only celebrity to switch to a Black-owned bank. In recent years, Jermaine Dupri, Killer Mike, and Usher have revealed they have moved their money as well.

Black-owned banks could certainly use the support. As we reported last year, 60 percent of Black-owned banks lost money in 2013. And from 2001 to 2015, the number of Black banks decreased dramatically from 48 to 25. Teri Williams, President/COO of OneUnited Bank, the nation’s largest Black-owned bank, is working to see that not only celebrities support Black-owned banks, but everyone.

Under her tenure, OneUnited, which has three locations in Miami, L.A., and Boston, has done a number of things and created various programs to engage the Black and underserved banking communities. Among them: promoting financial literacy through contests, workshops and programs; providing initiative’s for first-time home buyers; creating a UNITY Visa Secured Credit Card helping to rebuild credit scores; Smart Money Summer School Workshops; and most recently painted a thought-provoking 550 ft. mural titled “Thunder and Enlightening” on the side of the Miami branch’s building. The mural, which was recently unveiled and painted by Miami artist Addonis Parker, has sparked some controversy as it depicts the numerous hardships the Black community has suffered, including police killings. The mural touches on racism, bigotry, protest, the confederate flag, the massacre in South Carolina, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.

OneUnited was launched nearly 50 years ago with the opening of Unity Bank & Trust in Boston, and it was actually established by combining a group of Black-owned banks across the country– L.A.’s Founders National Bank of Commerce; Family Savings Bank, also in L.A.; Peoples National Bank of Commerce in Miami; and Boston Bank of Commerce (the predecessor to OneUnited Bank). OneUnited is also the first Black Internet bank.

Check out our conversation with Terri Williams about wealth building and what we can do to recycle more Black dollars.

MadameNoire (MN): You recently unveiled a mural at one of your branches, but it seems to have caused some controversy. Why?

Teri Williams (TW): Sometimes the truth can be controversial. When I commissioned the mural I told the artist I really wanted it to be an honest reflection of the urban community. And it does include the struggles we have had as a community; these are real life issues and concerns for the community. Yes, the truth can be controversial, and I think that it was commissioned by a bank may make it even more so.


MN: Why did the bank commission it?

TW: We are an equal housing lender; we serve all people but we are Black owned, serving a low-income community and we felt we had to be our authentic self and welcome the community. This mural represents our authentic self.

We are not trying to be the Black Bank of America. That is not our authentic self. I like to say we are unapologetically Black.

MN: Why not be the Black Bank of America?

TW: We made a decision during our journey to develop our brand that we wanted to be true to the community we served and to offer the products they needed. In doing this it was definitely a risk and continues to be a risk. But we wanted to show our customers that money is not just about dollars and cents. It’s about growing wealth.

It’s about how you spend your money, where you spend your money–your values, your struggles. And we felt like being just a Black Bank of America didn’t give us the opportunity or the voice to really help people.

MN: Why are Black banks still needed?

TW: We understand the struggles of the community; we understand that our community is filled with check cashing store users;  we understand that most of us did not learn good financial advice from our families; we understand that most families might have one member that has succeeded. So when we thought of how we could be successful in helping people, we exhaled and said, we are not them we’re us.

We stand on a history and a foundation of great leaders and civil rights leaders who underscored the importance of Black people harnessing their spending power.

The reality is that Black banks understand the challenges of the Black community especially as it relates to money. When you look at the products and services we offer, like something called Second Chance Checking account for people who have had problems with their checking accounts in the past, what we are is a barometer of the community’s financial strength. We are the largest Black-owned bank and we have $620 million in assets; the largest Asian bank has $20 billion.

MN: We are constantly reading that Black America has an estimated spending power of $1.2 trillion. But why don’t we see evidence of this?

TW: Only 2 percent of our money is spent in the Black community.  In fact, the lifespan of a dollar in the Black community is only 6 hours. In the Asian community it’s 28 days. So we just touch the money and spend in other communities. If that 2 percent that stayed in the community moved to 10 percent we could create a million jobs in our community. That’s how significant this is. And this is something we CAN do–we can put money in a Black bank, or we could hire a Black plumber. It’s all about recycling the Black dollar.

MN: Black banks have been struggling and decreasing, but do you think interest has increased lately in the support of Black-owned banks?

TW: Very recently there has been a conscious and a community awareness of and a desire for people to take action because of the tragic events that have recently happened. We have seen visits to our website increase 10-fold, deposit applications increased 10-fold. We have had people lines up at our bank to open up accounts.

MN: What do you like the most about your job?

TW: I love everything about what I do. I do believe that my job is my passion, my mission is teaching our community financial education and providing opportunity for our people to build wealth. As a kid I loved to solve puzzle and as I still feel I solve puzzle, such as finding the solutions for someone to buy a home. This is what I find fun-when I see someone who bought a home, or when a kid comes in and sees that they can run bank just like me. I came from nothing, my parents didn’t have the resources. I went to Brown, Harvard, went to Corporate America, and I looked around as saw there are people sitting on the stoop who as smart as these people in Corporate America; they just need the opportunities. So I am passionate about finding ways to create these opportunities.


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