Policymakers and regulators have made it clear they care about DEI.
In 2019, the House Financial Services Committee established the first-ever Subcommittee on Diversity and Inclusion. Its mission is to examine and resolve “the systemic economic exclusion of women, people of color, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ+ individuals, veterans, and other members of our society who have to fight for a seat at the table.”
In its inaugural year, the subcommittee held several hearings on DEI in the financial services sector.
The House Financial Services Committee hosted 18 hearings on financial discrimination and on diversity and inclusion initiatives, representing nearly 20% of all hearings to date.
In addition, the House Financial Services Committee solicited diversity data from all bank holding companies with more than $50 billion in assets since 2015.
NCUA’s Office of Minority Women and Inclusion (OMWI), established by the Dodd-Frank Act, is charged with assessing DEI practices at credit unions. OMWI is a prime example of how credit union regulators are focused on DEI.
The agency has encouraged credit unions to complete their voluntary diversity self-assessments to help them gauge “their existing diversity and inclusion practices and identify opportunities for implementing diversity best practices.”
In addition, NCUA has taken several actions over the last year that signal the importance the regulator places on advancing DEI among credit unions.
This includes holding its first annual DEI Summit, attended by more than 150 credit union representatives, and joining the Credit Union DEI Collective, a nascent network of organizations committed to advancing DEI.
NCUA also launched a Culture, Diversity, and Inclusion Council, and NCUA Chairman Rodney Hood has called upon regulators to make financial inclusion a major priority in the financial services industry.
By advancing DEI, credit unions can stay true to our cooperative values and remain competitive and relevant. DEI work is also the right thing to do.
This is especially important in the current context characterized by two intersecting crises (racial injustice and COVID-19) which are magnifying the socioeconomic inequities historically underserved groups experience—making this work all the more urgent.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has hit Black, brown, Indigenous, and low-income people the hardest from both health and financial perspectives.
Samira Salem, CUNA vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), offers four ways to use a DEI lens to serve society’s most vulnerable populations:
1. Know the pain points. Take stock of particular challenges vulnerable populations face to ensure you’re responsive to their needs.
Black, brown, and Indigenous people, for instance, are unbanked or underbanked at a higher rate than white people in part because they tend to distrust financial institutions. Make sure they know their money is safe at the credit union and that credit unions are their financial partners, committed to providing the financial assistance they need.
2. Ask the right questions. When making changes to your organization, products, and services, ask who benefits. How are you supporting the most vulnerable? Who might be harmed? What unintentional consequences should you consider?
Consider insights your frontline staff may have regarding member needs. They will have a finger on the pulse of a dynamic environment.
3. Use a DEI lens in your communications. If you have members who are non-English speakers, translate your communications into relevant languages and make them accessible via multiple channels (i.e., website, email, and branch flyers). Also, consider staffing your branches and phone lines with bilingual staff so non-English-speaking members can receive equitable service.
4. Consider unequal access to technology. Some members may not have smartphones, tablets, or computers. This poses a barrier to their access to online banking and information about their credit union’s services. Drive-thru windows, ATMs, phone service, and branch flyers can address this challenge.