press releases, the bank also increased customer care and stepped up community involvement.
One area in which they hope to improve community participation is in the bank’s investment in the Revolving Loan Fund of the Miami-Dade Empowerment Zone Trust, an entity that provides loans to small businesses that are usually not deemed credit-worthy by traditional institutions. Publicizing new banking initiatives like the membership program and its national home ownership drive may also help win customers over.
Perhaps a bigger challenge for Cohee has been bringing in a number of highly-skilled professionals to upgrade technology, connect all the different banking systems, and reconfigure the management of the bank so that it can operate nationally. In the process, he has had to change his staff, and while the process has gone smoothly so far, it may become a more complex issue as more banks are merged into the institution.
“When you talk about change and replacing people with better people, some like to look at that as a bad thing — this guy is taking people’s jobs away. That’s silly,” says Cohee. “We do these things in as humane a way as we can. We treat everybody with dignity and respect, but you must remember, our first responsibility is to our community and our customers, and we have to ensure that we have employees that are skilled and capable enough to serve them.”
STAYING THE COURSE
Even as Cohee establishes OneUnited as a national bank, he continues to look to expand. In fact, he hopes to grow the bank into a $3 billion institution over the next three to five years. His next acquisition target? Since he already has a presence in Los Angeles, the No. 1 banking market in the country, it makes sense for him to look to the next-largest markets with African American populations. He has already made two attempts at New York’s Carver Bank since 1999. He and his wife purchased a 7.8% interest in Carver stock “and pursued a proxy contest to get themselves appointed to the board of directors at an annual meeting in February 2000. They were only named to the board as part of the settlement of a related litigation,” says a Carver spokesperson. Then Cohee attempted a hostile takeover of the bank in 2000 and was defeated. A Carver spokesperson now says, “Kevin Cohee has not been a director since the last annual meeting on Feb. 4, 2003. During the month of August 2002, he and his wife, Teri Williams, sold substantially all of their Carver stock. There is no relationship between him and Carver.”
But Carver seems to continue to be of major interest to Cohee. Since New York is the No. 2 banking market, Cohee says, “Carver represents a tremendous opportunity for black America. … We like to believe that the opportunity has not been lost and at some point in time the two organizations will be able to come together because we think that is what’s in the best interest of everybody involved — the shareholders, the