Two Millennials Help Modernize a Historic Black-Owned Bank

Their startup bridges the generation gap between legacy companies and Millennials

Twenty-six is typically not the age when someone is appointed to a bank’s advisory board. However, black-owned Mechanics and Farmers (M&F) Bank bucked tradition and appointed millennials Marcus Howard and Charles Hands III to its newly created M&F Bank Millennial Advisory Board. The move was made to understand what the tech-savvy younger generation looks for in a banking institution, reports the Milwaukee Community Journal.

 

(National Bankers Association (NBA) President Michael Grant (middle) introduced Marcus Howard (left) and Charles Hands III (right) to NBA bankers during the organization’s 90th Anniversary celebration. Image: Engage Millennials)

 

“This is very important because these are our future leaders,” M&F Bank President James Sills III told the Trice Edney News Wire in a story published in the Milwaukee Community Journal. “We need the energy. We need new customers. All businesses need new customers in order to survive. Partnering with this group, plus the other eight members of our millennial advisory board, will help us in the area of technology and marketing. They’re learning something from us and we’re learning something from them. I think every bank is trying to tap into that group. I think they just need to figure out how.”

Howard and Hands were intrigued by black banks after spending time researching the history of Black Wall Street. They were excited that a black-owned bank that was over a century old was nearby and still in existence.

However, they were disappointed that the bank was less technologically advanced as traditional banks and had fewer customer service offerings. After writing a letter to Sills, the pair was invited to sit as advisers. The Millenial Advisory Board is currently up to nine members.

In fact, the opportunity grew into a business venture for Howard and Hands. Engage Millennials is their new startup that helps legacy companies connect with the millennial generation. The article goes on to report that National Bankers Association president Michael Grant is working to connect their startup to all of the associations bank members.

“The attitude of millennials about black banks is they don’t know about them,” says Howard in the article. “And so, one of the things that we want to do is make it known to the public that there are black banks and they do have a social justice theme because a lot of these black banks give right back into the community. And we want them to know that the bank that you currently are banking with may not be the best for your particular community. And so we’re kind of saying, ‘Hey, you need to support an institution that cycles money back into your community.'”

In an exclusive interview with Black Enterprise, Howard and Hands delved into more details about their work at M&F Bank and their new startup.

One of the first tasks they helped the bank with was a website update. “And we have been increasing millennial awareness and participation. We have lots of things coming up in the beginning of 2018. We’ll be releasing millennial-specific products that we have been working with the bank to release,” says Howard.

“There are studies that show millennials have issues with banks. They feel as though they are being nickled and dimed,” Hands said. He added that even for millennials with ample funds, requirements such as banking fees or minimum balances will “deter a millennial away from the bank.”

While working with the bank, the pair discovered the disconnect with millennials was not unique to M&F Bank. Networking with the minority-based National Bankers Association, they are now working to improve services of other black-owned banks.

They aren’t focusing solely on banks, however. “We are planning to reach out to minority-owned newspapers and other industries [to] use our service to help them engage millennials,” Howard says.

Engage Millennials is also working on a new national initiative, Black Wealth 2020. The effort’s goal is to increase the collective wealth of Black America by the end of the year 2020.

When not bridging generation gaps between legacy companies and millennials, the pair have other full-time pursuits. Hands is a practicing attorney in North Carolina and Howard is finishing a Ph.D. in human development at North Carolina State University.