By Darlene Donloe
LOS ANGELES — Actor Jesse Williams is lending his star power and advocacy to Greenwood, a new majority Black and Latinx-owned and operated online bank set to officially launch Feb. 1.
The endeavor — the brainchild of Greenwood Chairman Ryan Glover, Michael “Killer Mike” Render and Andrew Young, the former Atlanta mayor and ambassador to the United Nations — addresses a need by providing quality banking services to underserved minority communities.
Williams, best known for playing Dr. Jackson Avery in “Grey’s Anatomy, also is an investor in the banking venture and will appear in Greenwood television commercial campaigns, directed by filmmaker Ri-Karlo Handy, slated to debut Nov. 19.
Williams wanted to be an investor and lend his star power to the venture because “It’s necessary,” he said.
“Our feelings, our expression our political frustration, our social disappointment and excitement, all those things we’re addressing, all those things are a little bit more socially acceptable,” he said. “Power doesn’t care if you’re talking about something you can’t impact. This is the heart of the matter. This is a cultural expression. This is central to our liberation.”
“We could have hired Jesse as an actor and he could play a role, but instead Jesse chose to join us as an investor because what we’re doing is symbiotic to who he is as a person,” said David Tapscott, Greenwood’s chief marketing officer. “We hired somebody who believes in the same mission that is Greenwood — that the recirculation matters. We are proving ourselves. The question is, ‘How can the community trust us?’ Watch what we do, not what we say, who we partner with, and what we do.”
“We need to stop just talking about it and be about it when it comes to self-determination and the kind of clichés like ‘keeping it real’ and investing in ourselves and supporting each other,” Williams said. “We’re going back to basics. We’re going back to basics with an incredible team. We’re not biting off more than we can chew. We’re focused on you getting your check, no hidden fees, you having access to your money wherever you are, you being able to get loans. We’re meeting our people where they are.”
Greenwood’s executive leadership includes Glover, the founder of Bounce TV and Noontime Records; Render, Young, Aparicio Reese Giddins, president and chief technology officer; Tapscott; and board members Andrew “Bo” Young III and Dr. Paul Judge.
“Greenwood is a new platform that understands the history and our needs going forward and we believe that this is our team to take back control of our lives and our financial future,” Giddins said.
“When it comes to Greenwood and what we deserve as black people in terms of our dollar, if we don’t use our dollar effectively, then we get abused by people who do use our dollars,” said Render, an activist, Grammy Award-winning rapper, and founder of Grind Time Official Records. “We need another bank because, in capitalism, competition usually ends up good for the customer. It’s important we are in the throes of competition because usually the more participants you have fighting to give you better service as the customer, you’re going to get the better end of that deal.”
In a press release distributed in October, Render, who started the #BankBlack movement that encourages African-American families, businesses, and allies to utilize Black-owned banks, said, “Today, a dollar circulates for 20 days in the white community but only six hours in the Black community.”
“Moreover, a Black person is twice as likely as a white person to be denied a mortgage,” he said. “This lack of fairness in the financial system is why we created Greenwood.”
Williams wants young black people to understand that it’s about “self respect and self-confidence.”
“It’s about returning to an understanding that there is nothing we need that we cannot get from within our own community,” he said. “There is real value, both in the short term and the long term, and there is real satisfaction and real fulfillment in being able to have your dollar, our dollar circulate on their way in and on their way out in our communities.
“This is a long game,” he added. “We have been around for a long time. We’re going to be here a long time. Let’s build something substantive that we can enjoy during our lifetime that we can also hand down, being a part of something larger.”
Giddins, an experienced mobile app product manager with more than 15 years of experience, said the Greenwood team is “Excited about what we have in terms of our offering.”
“To be able to bring a best-in-class digital banking experience for the Black and Latinx consumers as well as the business owners and be able to also give back to the Black and Latinx causes as well as the businesses,” Giddins said. “We know that 65% of the population, due to the pandemic, is using mobile to do their everyday banking. We believe this is a great opportunity to roll out our mobile experience for folks to continue to have the experience they expect that’s germane to them being able to do their everyday banking.”
The new financial platform, headquartered in Atlanta, was created, in part, due to the Black and Latinx population historically being underserved by traditional banks. With the tag, “Modern banking for the culture” Greenwood, already boasting a waiting list for those eager to open an account, has reportedly been developed “for us, by us.”
Giddins addressed how Black and brown people and businesses who have traditionally been turned down for loans would be treated at Greenwood.
“We’ve put a lot of thought into that,” he said. “We’re going to have underwriting standards. We’re going to have criteria that we have to meet in order to fund loans. We will be competitive. The rates that you see will be as competitive, if not more competitive, along the way.
“Black people have been routinely rejected or turned down for loans and we want to try to remove some of those obstacles. We’ll share more as we get closer to our consumer loan roll out. It’s something that is top of mind for us.”
Initially, Giddins said, Greenwood’s products will be saving and spending accounts.
Customers who invite their friends to open accounts receive cash awards as a thank you from Greenwood. All deposits are FDIC insured by a partner bank.
Additionally, Greenwood plans to work with brick-and-mortar minority-owned banks to provide deposits to help strengthen historically Black banks.
In an effort to give back, Giddins said Greenwood has three key avenues to support Black and Latinx causes and businesses include: for every customer sign-up, Greenwood will provide five free meals to a family in need, every swipe of a Greenwood debit card will prompt a donation to the United Negro College Fund for education, or to UNCF or NAACP to support civil rights. Every month, Greenwood provides a $10,000 grant to a Black or Latinx small business owner that is a Greenwood customer.
The Greenwood name pays homage to the former Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma, during the early 20th century when the African-American business community was thriving. It was destroyed by white mobs during the 1921 Tulsa race massacre.
Greenwood is the trading name for the Relevant Group, which is majority-owned, managed and operated by Blacks and Latinx people.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.