THE BLOG
07/04/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

NAACP, Wells Fargo and a Banker's Heart

Outside of Bank of America's former headquarters in San Francisco, there is a sculpture that locals have dubbed a "banker's heart."

The NAACP has come under fire for its "partnership" with cold-hearted Wells Fargo, which is being sued by states and municipalities for discriminatory and predatory mortgage lending practices.

Up until a few weeks ago, Wells Fargo was in the NAACP's crosshairs.

Now, the "unequal opportunity lender" is in the NAACP's embrace.

After being put on blast by and Dr. Boyce Watkins and I, NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous responded:

The NAACP agreed to end our lawsuit against Wells Fargo because we successfully negotiated an agreement that improves their practices and increases their transparency in ways that go far beyond what we could win in court. (Click here to read the NAACP's Countering Lending Discrimination Report).
Wells Fargo's signature on our banking principles - with measures to hold the bank accountable - implement practices that guarantee: (a.) full disclosure of rates, (b.) borrowers will only be offered products they can understand and afford, (c.) no consumer will be targeted based on zip codes and race, and (d.) diversity amongst their suppliers and employees.

Most importantly, the extra transparency allows us to ensure accountability and that the principles are being followed.

Question: What resources does the NAACP have to enforce this agreement? Are we supposed to trust a financial institution with a history of exploiting communities of color? If all it took was a signature on a piece of paper, the City of Baltimore, where the NAACP is headquartered, would have dropped its lawsuit against Wells Fargo.

And there would be no need for financial reform.

President Barack Obama could just ask for public apologies instead of pushing for an independent consumer financial protection agency.

A White House fact sheet on financial reform and African Americans notes:

Too many responsible African American families have paid the price for an outdated regulatory system that left our financial system vulnerable to collapse and left families without adequate protections. The Obama Administration's plan will promote financial stability and protect African American families from the unfair practices that contributed to this crisis. The plan will establish a new consumer financial protection agency, which will have the power to set clear rules of the road and ensure that financial firms are held to high standards.

Call me skeptical, but it seems the NAACP dropped its lawsuit after Wells Fargo agreed to implement principles that it says it already practices - at least on paper.

On its website, Wells Fargo proclaims its commitment to "responsible lending principles for consumer credit":

As a responsible lender, Wells Fargo denounces and strictly prohibits abusive, misleading, or fraudulent lending practices. Additionally, Wells Fargo business units that extend consumer credit do so according to the following affirmative responsible lending practices:
  • We provide our customers with the information they need to make fully informed decisions about our credit products and services.
  • We price our credit products and services based on appropriate factors, including the risk and cost of extending credit, competition and marketplace strategy and conditions, and safety and soundness considerations.
  • We only approve applications where we believe the borrower has the ability to repay the credit according to its terms, using a method of assessment appropriate to the type of credit transaction.

The web page was last updated on October 1, 2009.

As for the NAACP's agreement regarding "diversity amongst their suppliers and employees," Wells Fargo has had an African American Business Services program since 1998. "We are committed to strengthening our company and our communities by proactively seeking out minority, women and disabled-owned suppliers. Wells Fargo's goal is to spend at least $1 billion by the end of 2010 with diverse suppliers, including African American-owned businesses."

Wells Fargo's stated lending principles and supplier diversity program beg the question: What did the NAACP "win" other than sponsorship of its 101st annual convention?

The NAACP's convention will be held in Kansas City, which has a vibrant blues scene. That's the reason I visited their website to confirm the dates.

I'm a blues lover but "I"d rather drink muddy water, sleep out in a hollow log" than attend a convention whose lead sponsor has a banker's heart.

Crossposted from Race-Talk.org