Citigroup traders, bankers vie to do stints at Black-owned banks

A bevy of Citigroup bankers and traders are vying to join a new program that would allow them to spend time working at a Black-owned bank.

As part of the Wall Street giant’s efforts to mentor the country’s dwindling minority deposit institutions, Citigroup will debut a program on Thursday in which it lets senior executives help such firms shore up operations or establish new lines of business.

The program’s initial participant is Gina Nisbeth, a director in Citigroup’s trading division who helps oversee structured lending and investments. She’ll spend a year working with Unity National Bank of Houston.

Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

“Putting a high-caliber, senior person — a rock star like Gina — on location with a bank for up to a year on Citi’s expense, it has never been done,” said Harold Butler, a managing director in Citigroup’s public-sector group, a part of its investment bank. Butler has overseen much of the firm’s work with minority deposit institutions.

The country’s biggest banks and many of their largest corporate clients are battling to keep America’s Black-owned banks alive. The first bank organized and operated by Black Americans, Capital Savings Bank, was established in 1888, according to the Federal Reserve. Over the next 50 years, 134 Black banks were established.

Today, fewer than two dozen remain.

After the murder of George Floyd last year, banks had a renewed sense of urgency about reversing that trend and began pouring equity investments into minority deposit institutions. Citigroup, for its part, has provided $50 million to half a dozen such banks as part of a broader $1 billion commitment to closing the nation’s wealth gap.

“Any bank can do equity investments,” Butler said. “We’re committed to that. But it’s really things like this that make the biggest difference. They change the narrative. Gina is going to show them a new way and help them create something new.”

Revenue opportunities

Unity National Bank, where Nisbeth will spend the next year, is the only surviving Black-owned bank in Texas. Last year, under newly installed CEO Laurie Vignaud, it notched a small profit following years of losses.

Nisbeth will help the bank create a new-markets tax-credits business and re-establish itself as a community-development finance institution while broadening its affordable-housing efforts.

“I will be targeting increasing revenue opportunities with the bank — products and services they might not offer at this time,” Nisbeth said. “I’m looking for the opportunity to help broaden their experience.”

Citigroup has already received requests from other minority deposit institutions hoping to take advantage of the program.

“It’s hard to compete with larger banks who are able to pay the salaries and benefits of someone like Gina,” Unity’s Vignaud said. “So having Citi provide her for a year to work with us on identifying opportunities in the affordable-housing sphere, it’s going to alter our way of being able to do business.”

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