Has the investment paid off? It depends on how you measure the yield.
Like any for-profit enterprise, United Bank has to meet bottom-line goals year in and year out, manage risks, and satisfy its shareholders. And, as The Inquirer recently reported, its performance has been criticized by regulators and others.
But as with other entities born of adversity, United’s success is also measured in ways that go beyond the traditional balance sheet.
In keeping with the legacy of community banking, United has invested in neighborhoods, through residents as well as businesses, that might have been turned away by other banks. With a commitment to the African American community at the core of its mission, United built its foundation in underserved communities facing the most challenging of circumstances.
At this 20-year milestone, United can also be measured by the fact that it’s still standing, one of only 28 black-owned banks in the country. In an era of big-bank bailouts, it has weathered its share of financial storms without the benefit of such a large-scale rescue.
The label “too big to fail” has become part of our financial lexicon. But the notion of being “too important to fail” has carried United through its most turbulent times.
It has meant extending credit to small businesses that have been quietly but consistently providing employment opportunities to people who otherwise would not be able to contribute to the communities we share. It has meant putting money into churches that keep their neighborhoods stable. And it has meant providing gap financing to nonprofits that depend on it to keep providing services while they are awaiting funds.
These are not just transactions; they are transformations. They represent chances taken where there was no chance for anything else but failure.
And there is yet another measure of success beyond the usual yardsticks that is often forgotten: the number of bankers who started their careers at United Bank, where they learned what it takes to make such a community bank work — including understanding that black, urban banking will always be more than just banking.
Put it all together, and you have a portfolio that reflects some hard times and some better times. But it all adds up to helping Philadelphia and its neighborhoods become stronger and more stable.
David W. Brown is chairman of the board of advisers of WURD-AM (900), Philadelphia’s only black-owned talk radio station. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.