The community reaction to George Floyd’s killing has forced an uncomfortable and overdue reckoning on racism in America. The graphic pain of recent events has made it clear that we must acknowledge and talk about the racial discrimination endemic in our country’s culture and history. As a business leader, and particularly as a leader in financial services, I believe I have a responsibility to commit to real change.
Financial services is an industry that I love and have a passion for. Banking is a critical part of building the communities and economies where we live and work – from helping the neighborhood corner store to get off the ground to helping that young family to buy their first home.
But the uncomfortable truth is that banks historically played a crucial role in furthering and enforcing the racist structures that systematically disadvantaged people of color for decades. Redlining, racial covenants and bias in lending are real, undeniable truths in the history of banking, with repercussions lasting generations. And that means that banks have a critical responsibility to help build a path forward.
Bremer’s purpose, instilled in us by our immigrant founder, is to cultivate thriving communities. Every member of the Bremer team identifies with this purpose, and we know we can only achieve it when every person in our communities, regardless of background, has an opportunity to thrive.
Here’s how we’re going to live up to that purpose.
In the short term, we’ve made donations to the following organizations working to rebuild, including specific financial support for Black-owned businesses and the Black community:
We Love Saint Paul
We Love Lake Street
Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA)
Twin Cities Rebuild for the Future Fund
We are also the presenting sponsor for the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce’s Equity Series, a critical and valuable series where we along with other businesses are challenged to create action understanding that, "Equity requires access advancement, accountability and allyship."
Strategies to drive change
We are categorizing our short to longer-term strategies into two areas, with an understanding that this work will evolve and change as we move into it: Banking practices and our internal processes, including talent and training.
1. Banking practices
EXPANSION OF OUR EFFORTS TO SERVE BIPOC SMALL BUSINESSES
Bremer will increase our investments in small businesses owned by historically underrepresented groups, an effort that will begin through an investment in additional talent with expertise in supporting BIPOC-owned (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) businesses in the Twin Cities. This team will continue to look for ways to improve Bremer’s products and solutions to ensure they meet the needs of BIPOC-owned businesses. This team will strengthen the BIPOC-owned business banking that Bremer does – they will not represent the only BIPOC-owned investments that Bremer makes.
STRENGTHENED FOCUS ON AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND MORTGAGE LENDING
Bremer will strengthen its work within low- to moderate- income communities by committing additional resources, including solutions, to focus on low- to moderate-income communities throughout our footprint. This includes providing education and guidance to ensure individuals have the support they need on the path to homeownership. Bremer understands the importance of owning a home in improving the financial stability, health and well-being of communities and individuals.
ESTABLISH GREATER PRESENCE TO SERVE BIPOC COMMUNITIES
Bremer will listen and learn from local BIPOC community leaders and establish a greater presence in underserved areas, starting with a particular focus in the Twin Cities. This will be accompanied by a commitment to actively recruit BIPOC bankers and financial service professionals to help provide small business and retail banking services to make meaningful and lasting impact.
2. Looking inward
ACCOUNTABILITY IN DIVERSITY AND TALENT
Bremer will build on three years of work in talent, diversity and inclusion by both setting and holding itself accountable for achieving its diversity and talent acquisition goals. This work will be supported by a newly developed internal diversity council, made up of Bremer leaders from varying departments throughout our footprint.
CULTURAL COMPETENCY AND RACIAL EQUITY
Bremer will implement enterprise-wide unconscious bias training, and expand our current D&I resources and training, with a focus on listening and learning. We have done significant work in our Senior Leadership Team in recent years, and we have a strategy and goal to provide opportunities to our broader Bremer community.
Bremer will create an expanded D&I plan, present it to the BFC Board, and share our successful and unsuccessful efforts.
SUPPLIER AND VENDOR RELATIONSHIPS
In recent days, as we’ve worked to establish where we are in several areas of equity and inclusion, Bremer has uncovered that we do not have a solid understanding of the diversity of our supplier and vendor relationships. We will first define our current baseline, and then establish and hold ourselves accountable to an improved goal of our BIPOC-owned vendors and suppliers whom Bremer contracts with.
PAID VOLUNTEER TIME
Bremer will provide an additional 8 hours annually of paid volunteer time and encourage employees to find meaningful ways to engage with and develop their awareness of cultures and groups different from their own.
3. Additional commitments
FOCUSING OUR AREAS OF CHARITABLE GIVING
Bremer’s giving is made in the areas of three core pillars: affordable housing, financial education and economic empowerment. We will be intentional in reviewing how we can deepen our commitment to BIPOC and underrepresented communities through these three areas of charitable focus, aligning and extending the work we’re already doing to further impact these goals.
I have committed to the CEO Action Pledge and have signed on and support the Minnesota Business Partnership call for police reform.
PRESENCE IN COMMUNITY COALITION
Bremer is committing two executive staff members to join the Twin Cities Corporate and Community Coalition to advocate for racial and social justice in the business community.
We are coming at this work from a place of humility, and an expectation that these strategies will expand and grow.
There is a lot of work to do. Every organization has the power to effect change in how it gives voices to and provides for the success of its own team members. But what makes Bremer – and all banking institutions – unique, is that we also have the power and the responsibility to make change in banking. This is a turning point. The time is now to do what is right. And we are committed to paving the path forward. Our purpose demands nothing less.