By Special to the AFRO
Last December, Byna Elliott joined JPMorgan Chase & Co. to lead Advancing Black Pathways, the firm’s strategy to strengthen the economic foundation of the Black community. Prior to joining JPMorgan Chase, Elliott was the Chief Enterprise Responsibility Officer at Fifth Third Bank, where she oversaw corporate social responsibility and Community Reinvestment Act efforts—including environmental sustainability initiatives, philanthropy, ethical business practices and economic responsibility.
In leading Advancing Black Pathways, Elliott will now play a key role in executing JPMorgan Chase’s strategy to address the key drivers of the racial wealth divide through a $30 billion commitment over the next five years. We recently caught up with Elliott to discuss why she took on this new role, what she hopes to accomplish and lessons she’s learned after more than 20 years in the community reinvestment space.
You recently joined JPMorgan Chase to lead Advancing Black Pathways after more than 20 years at Fifth Third. Why’d you decide to take on this new challenge, and what do you hope to accomplish?
I consider it my life’s work to manifest tangible, positive impact for communities in need. And I was fortunate enough to have been in a role at Fifth Third where we were able to make substantial investments in underserved communities across this country over the last five years. But I realized back in June of 2020— following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor— that I wanted to do more for the Black community. Although the work that I’d done prior to joining JPMorgan Chase was meaningful, I realized that I had a deep desire to focus my energies on driving impact and creating economic opportunity for Black people.
I know what it’s like to be in need. I’m a proud native Detroiter, and I didn’t have much growing up. But my mother and grandmother instilled within me a sense of community and concern for others. And now that I’m at this point in my career, I’m ready to devote my energies towards closing the racial wealth gap. Ultimately, my goal with Advancing Black Pathways is to help JPMorgan Chase succeed in its push to help Black people achieve sustained economic success. It’s an ambitious challenge that’s never been executed with such intentionality by a bank and I’m excited about the opportunity to contribute.
Last fall, nearly two years after launching Advancing Black Pathways, JPMorgan Chase announced a $30 billion commitment to advance racial equity in the financial services system. And throughout 2020, we saw significant financial commitments from a number of firms across the corporate sector. In your view, why are these types of initiatives necessary? And how will we know whether or not they’ve succeeded?
As bad as last year was for us – and for the Black community in particular, I am thankful that it at least sparked a national dialogue and awakening on the issue of race in this country. I believe there was a collective realization in both the public and private spheres that we’ve got to do more. That it’s our collective responsibility to take a stand and finally do something to address centuries of structural racism in our country. These types of initiatives are necessary because we’ve had a racial wealth gap in our country that’s persisted for generations. It’s important that business and government leaders acknowledge this gap is the end result of policy failures across both the public and private sectors, and that the time has come for us to address the root causes of it head on. With Advancing Black Pathways, we decided to focus on several areas where Black Americans have historically trailed other groups: educational achievement, wealth creation and long-term career success. To help us understand the impact, and whether we’re succeeding in making a difference, we’ve set benchmarks and goals for us to hit across each of these areas. And we run it like a business—with regular reviews and assessments of our initiatives across our focus areas. Measurability and accountability are key with these types of efforts. It’s not enough to just make grand pronouncements. There’s got to be consistency and follow-up.
We’ve managed to do some impactful things with this strategy—including a commitment to hire 4,000 Black college students by 2024, our student financial hardship fund to help students cover the cost of personal finance emergencies and remain in school, and the Currency Conversations campaign with Essence to help us deliver financial health content to Black women across the country. And last summer, with so many Black-owned businesses at risk due to the pandemic, we launched Advancing Black Entrepreneurs to help them address immediate financial needs and build resiliency in the midst of a difficult economic environment.
We’re going to build on these successes going forward through targeted investments and programs in four key areas under the firm’s Diversity & Inclusion framework: Careers & Skills, Financial Health & Wealth Creation, Business Growth & Entrepreneurship, and Community Development.
Let’s talk for a bit about JPMorgan Chase’s $30 billion commitment towards racial equity. We know that much of that investment will be focused on the Black community. What role will Advancing Black Pathways play in investing those resources in Black communities?
We’re actually going to play a key role for the firm in this effort. That commitment was structured in way that will help us address the key drivers of the racial wealth divide and systemic racism overall. The unfortunate reality is that structural barriers in the U.S. have created profound racial inequities in the U.S. that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. And ultimately, the racial wealth gap puts a strain on economic mobility for families and restricts the U.S. economy. To put this in perspective, McKinsey noted in a 2019 report that the racial wealth gap will cost the U.S. economy between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion by 2028 if we fail to act.
To help us drive maximum impact – we’ve structured the $30 billion commitment to focus on four key areas. Promoting affordable housing and homeownership; growing Black and Latinx-owned businesses; improving financial health in our communities and increasing workforce diversity and support for our employees. Advancing Black Pathways will work with partners across our various lines of business to develop strategies that will ensure these resources reach Black households across the country.
Let’s dig a little deeper on housing for a moment. The homeownership gap between Black and White Americans is larger today than it was 50 years ago. How is JPMorgan Chase planning to help close this gap?
As we look at our unique responsibility and ability to impact change when it comes to expanding access to homeownership, particularly among Black and Latinx consumers, we’re focused first on addressing two big challenges – the struggle to afford the upfront costs, like down payments and closing costs, and the lack of dedicated resources in Black and Latinx communities to inform, educate and counsel.
We have already begun to address these challenges when we announced the doubling of our homebuyer grant last summer as well as the hiring of Community Managers and Community Home Lending Advisors to help meet the banking and home-financing needs of the community.
Additionally, we will continue to partner with community leaders, non-profits, housing counselors, employees and customers to identify additional needs for getting more people homebuyer ready.
Going a step further, over the next five years, we’ve committed $8 billion in mortgages and plan to originate an additional 40,000 home purchase loans for Black and Latinx households. And as part of this investment, we’re focused on improving key home lending products and offerings—including a substantial increase in the Chase Homebuyer Grant in underserved communities.
We want Black and Latinx families to be able to take advantage of historically low interest rates as well, and so we’re going to help an additional 20,000 households achieve lower mortgage payments through refinancing loans. But beyond this – we must also acknowledge that affordable housing is a critical issue for countless families across the country. So we also intend to finance 100,000 affordable rental units over the next five years in an effort to get more families on a pathway to financial stability.
Based on your experience reinvesting in communities for over two decades, what is one important lesson you’ve learned about making sustainable impact?
In my experience, I’ve found that those of us in positions of influence can always do better. I recently took a hard look at the work I’ve done over the past 20 years and realized that I thought I’d made much more progress impacting communities of color than the data showed. The reality is that addressing the racial wealth divide in a meaningful way requires commitment and dedication to equality and inclusion. It demands intentionality. It’s a challenge that’s bigger than any one company. But as the largest bank in the United States, it’s our responsibility to take this challenge head on.
To learn more about Advancing Black Pathways, visit JPMorganChase.com/ABP.