Stand And Deliver

Kevin Cohee turned OneUnited into the nation's largest black banking institution one acquisition at a time. And he's not finished yet.

senior counsel for OneUnited. “[But] if customers are afraid to bank or they believe they are going to be penalized by banks that charge high fees, [they're not going to save quite as much]. We really want to make it easy for our customers to save their money, to put it in a safe and sound institution.”

For Cohee, creating a “safe and sound institution” meant getting bigger. “We’re in an industry that requires scale to deliver modern-day financial services and products,” he says. “We have to be able to do everything from transactions such as financing a skyscraper to being involved with programs for the poor.”

To create such an institution, he first purchased the People’s National Bank of Commerce (with branches in Miami and Lauderdale Lakes, Florida) from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in 1999. Then, in 2000, he used a stock swap, worth reportedly $10.2 million to acquire Founders National Bank in Los Angeles. The star power of investors Magic Johnson, Janet Jackson, and former Motown President Jheryl Busby also helped in the deal. His most recent acquisition came last year, when he wrestled Family Savings Bank in Los Angeles away from FBOP Corp., a large, white-owned, bank holding company that had negotiated a deal for the bank against the protests of community residents who wanted it to remain black-owned. Taking advantage of community pressure, Cohee found a way to convince Family’s board of directors to back out of the deal with FBOP and sell to OneUnited.

Cohee says the combined banks, with 10 branches and two ATM centers, can do more than any of the banks could do separately. Anderson says t
he acquisitions are “a very positive thing because a number of black banks have been acquired by white-owned institutions and, without mergers of this type, a number of the black banks would probably cease to exist.”

COMMITTED TO CUSTOMERS
Even though a black-owned bank may have been preserved in the communities where the acquired banks are located, Cohee still faces the challenge of unifying the banks under one name — OneUnited — to make his organization most effective. While the name change has been official since Jan. 20, 2003, to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, getting customers and employees to embrace the dramatic changes that come with having a national black-owned bank is not an overnight process. Since black-owned banks have historically had a very strong link and commitment to the black communities they’ve served, erasing the bank’s name may cause customers to flee in protest.

“The case has to be made by the board of directors before they agree to be acquired that the shareholders are going to be the major beneficiaries and that the community will continue to benefit from the presence of the financial services made available by the new institution,” says Anderson.

Cohee has enlisted the help of his high-profile investors Johnson, Jackson, and Busby to convince customers that OneUnited will continue the legacy of the merged banks. While the celebrities made appearances and were quoted in

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