Cerita Battles knows well the challenges that face African Americans who are seeking a piece of the American dream.
Battles, the senior vice president and head of Retail Diverse Segments at Wells Fargo, said that even with the banking giant’s eye-popping $60 billion commitment to aide African Americans in buying homes, she knows there are still plenty of obstacles.
But why focus on the negatives when so much progress is happening?
“I’m delighted with the progress that we’ve made over the last couple of years with our commitment,” Battles said.
“And I just wanted to share a couple of reminders just around the why we did the commitment and what we think about our African-American homeownership rate and the fact that it’s the lowest among all segments,” she said, before ripping off several statistics that added much to the conversation.
That adds up to an obvious need to focus there, which led Wells Fargo to roll out its commitment and make sure that they were a part of the solution, Battles said.
Announced in 2017, that commitment includes Wells Fargo lending $60 billion to create at least 250,000 African American homeowners by 2026.
Wells Fargo also pledged to increase the diversity of its Home Lending sales team and support the effort with $15 million to assist a variety of initiatives that promote financial education and counseling over the next decade.
“We want to make sure that we are increasing the diversity of our sales force, with more African American home mortgage consultants because we know that when we mirror the community, we have a huge potential to serve those community,” Battles said.
Since 2017, Wells Fargo has delivered.
The company has impacted close to 43,000 African American households – all new homeowners.
Those nearly 43,000 households equates to $10.6 billion in volume which means Wells Fargo is on its way to fulfilling the $60 billion pledge.
To date, Wells Fargo also has provided $4.7 million in grants to nonprofit housing counseling agencies that are doing business in helping African Americans achieve homeownership.
Currently, 4.2 percent of African Americans comprise the company’s sales force – a figure some might consider low,without proper context.
“But when we looked at loan officers in the industry, African American loan officers represent less than 1 percent of the loan officers that we have out there in the industry doing this business,” Battles said.
“So when you think about Wells Fargo, we’re pretty much four times the industry, but we’re still not satisfied with that,” she said.
“This commitment is really about Wells Fargo holding themselves accountable to lending to the African-American community,” Battles said.
Wells Fargo does not do this work alone. The company works with homebuying counselors and other experts who explain the sometimes-complex task of purchasing and maintaining a home,including providing explanations on down payment expectations, closing costs and interest rates.
“I think Wells Fargo has made a significant investment in the communities that we serve,” Battles said, noting the company’s NeighborhoodLIFT program where the bank has conductedmore than 67 LIFT events in the U.S. since 2012, creating nearly 20,000 homeowners.
“We recently held a Neighborhood LIFT event in Washington, D.C. Nonprofit housing counseling agencies were there to provide education and counseling, and we provided downpayment assistance grants to qualified homebuyers, which often is a significant barrier to homeownership particularly for African Americans,” Battles said. “More than 500 aspiring homebuyers attended the event with more than $600,000 dollars have been awarded in homebuyer assistance grants.”
Battles continued: “Our goal is not just to the business, we want to make sure that we are positively impacting communities. And we know that in order to meet the needs of the community it will take more than Wells Fargo it will take the collaboration of the entire village.”