Blacks face rising challenges in financial and banking fields

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Tony Coley, South Florida regional president of Truist Bank, is photographed inside his office in Fort Lauderdale.

SUSAN STOCKER/SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SENTINEL/TNS

BY CHRIS PERKINS
SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SENTINEL/TNS

When Tony Coley is talking to people, inevitably they ask what he does for a living. He works at Truist Bank, he tells them. Then they ask which branch.

His answer often surprises them: All the branches. In fact, he’s the regional president for South Florida for the company, which was formed out of a merger of SunTrust and BB&T.

Coley, who is Black and a former academic All-America linebacker for the University of Miami, said he doesn’t fit people’s expectations for such a high-level position in banking.

“They don’t envision me in that position,” Coley said. “And it’s no fault of their own. It’s just the world.”

Frustrating climb

The world of banking and finance has been a frustrating climb for Black professionals.

It starts at the top. The U.S. has never had a Black leader of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Reserve or Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

It’s a perception problem, said James Brewer, a certified financial planner and founder of Envision Wealth Management.

“Black and White people often have concerns about Black people and money,” said Brewer, who is MIT educated and Chicago-based.

Brewer said many people don’t believe Blacks are capable of handling financial jobs; he added that many people don’t know where to find qualified Blacks to lead national banking and financial agencies.

“Recently, they’ve been picking people from Wall Street,” Brewer said, “and Wall Street hasn’t had a love affair with brown folks.”

Coley, however, wants Blacks to know they can still achieve their dreams in the financial sector, an industry he called “exciting.”

“If you’re dedicated, you work hard, have a positive attitude, and you come to work every day with the right attitude and you work to get things done, then good things will happen,” he said. “And that’s never changed in my career. It’s always been the same. I continue that to this day.”

Disturbing study

But the diversity statistics aren’t impressive.

A 2020 study of Racial Equity in Financial Services by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and McKinsey and Company showed 75% of Black employees above the entry level are “onlys,” meaning they’re the “only” Black person at that job level. Just 4% of Whites are
“onlys” compared to 31% of Asians and 40% of Latinos.

Worse, the same study showed while financial institutions initially hire people of color 40% of the time, 90% percent of people in the C-suite (CEO, CFO, etc.) are White, meaning retention and promotion could be major issues.

Patience might also be an issue. For example, it usually takes four years to pass the courses to become a Certified Financial Planner and five years to build a business.

Peter Fondulas, president of Fondulas Strategic Research, did a study for the CFP Board Center for Financial Planning. It said there are just 1,200 Black CFPs among the 80,000 CFPs in America, or 1.5%.

Satisfying career

However, the same study found people of color were more satisfied in their careers as CFPs than Whites and more likely to recommend it as a profession.

Brewer said he’d like to drill down on the survey results.

“I would like to understand what ‘satisfied in their profession’ means,” he said.

Brewer said he sees very few Blacks at CFP conferences.

Brewer thinks mentoring could help, just as introducing Blacks to possible financial careers in high school could help.

Coley’s professional journey started his senior year of high school. He was a celebrated high school linebacker who could have attended any college in the nation. But before the second game of his senior season, he broke his leg. As scholarships offer disappeared, Coley vowed he’d dedicate himself to becoming a good college student.

At UM, he never missed a class and always sat in the front row.

His first job after college wasn’t in the NFL, rather it was as a bank teller in Coral Gables across the street from the UM campus as part of a management training rotation for Barnett Bank.

When he’d chat with older bank executives, they’d ask Coley what he wanted to do, and he’d usually give a mid-level answer.

“There were people who told me, and even more importantly, showed me there were bigger things available if you really work at it,” Coley said, later adding, “but you have to see it. Somebody has to show you this is possible.”

Coley hopes he can open some eyes in the same fashion his eyes were opened.

“You can do almost anything you want to do in this industry,” he said. “And in my career, I will do a lot of different things within this industry. It’s exciting. It’s not boring. It’s not what people think it is. I really enjoy my job.” 

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