BE Exclusive: Chase Consumer Banking CEO Thasunda Brown Duckett Offers Strategies For Building and Preserving Black Wealth

Thasunda Brown Duckett is on a mission. In addition to overseeing the retail banking arm of JPMorgan Chase & Co.—a 5,000-plus branch network with more than $800 billion in deposits and investments—the driven CEO of Chase Consumer Banking seeks to address persistent racial and economic barriers to black wealth creation. As the sponsoring executive of the financial Institution’s Advancing Black Pathways, she is using the innovative, multi-prong program, among other initiatives, to achieve that enormous task.

Duckett recently shared her views on race and wealth with Black Enterprise Chief Content Officer Derek T. Dingle via email. Here are excerpts of her comments:

African Americans are still reeling from the damage to their wealth status due to the Great Recession that occurred roughly a decade ago. As such, the average African American family has a total net worth of $17,600 versus $171,000 for their white counterparts as of 2016. What factors contributed to this racial wealth gap? What steps can be taken to engage in course correction for black wealth?

It’s true that many black people are still feeling the effects of our last recession. Today, a median white family has 41 times more wealth than a black family. We’re also now in the midst of another economic slowdown and this gap will widen if we don’t take action. And it requires all of us to work together: the private and public sector.

Many of us are in positions now where we’re forced to rob Peter to pay Paul. We’re stretching a dollar as far as we can, all while necessities like housing and education are becoming more expensive. I know firsthand how difficult it can be.

But we need to make room for what matters most and know what good looks like.

We also need to leave the shame in our money stories behind us and reach out for help so we can get a better grasp on budgeting, saving, and spending. After all, it’s not about what you make, it’s about what you keep. Above all, understand the power of compounding interest. A dollar put into savings today will be worth more tomorrow.

One big area of opportunity is broadening the conversation about how to build wealth. Yes owning a home is important, and having a small business is too, but it’s also about participating in the stock market. Less than 40% of black Americans own assets like mutual or index funds and we need to change that.

It’s personal for me because my dad worked at a company for 40 years and never invested in the 401(k) program because he didn’t think it was for him. Having that knowledge could have put him on a different trajectory.

Now African Americans, as well as other citizens, face another recession induced by the COVID-19 crisis. Are there any steps African Americans can take to keep from losing ground or preserve their current wealth status? Is Chase providing any programs that they can access?

I am a mother, a daughter, and I am in banking and this epidemic has affected all parts of my life. I know many of us are hurting for different reasons. Whatever the case, we are here to help people through this.

People who are struggling financially can get help with things like payment extensions, or access to more credit to pay for immediate needs—and even capital to help a small business survive.

Anyone who is struggling should make a list of upcoming payments, take stock of when they’re due, and ask creditors like car loan holders, credit card companies, and others for help. We want you to stay in your home and are helping with mortgage assistance. We’ve already helped thousands of customers by deferring payments.

This type of assistance does not affect your credit.

Challenging times are also opportunities to readjust, so if you did not have a budget before, now is the time to build one and review any unexpected expenses that have arisen. Or identify opportunities to save if you have less expenses now because you’re home more. We offer free tools like Budget Builder and AutoSave that can help.

If you’re participating in retirement savings programs like 401(k)s, it’s important to keep thinking about the future because brighter days are ahead. If you can afford to, continue to stay the course.

 A number of African American entrepreneurs believe they must self-finance their business rather than go to a bank for debt capital due to incidences of loan discrimination and outright rejection. How should the industry address these issues? How is Chase increasing accessibility to financing for black business owners? 

We need black entrepreneurs to know they don’t have to go it alone, that companies like Chase are here to help.

We’ve held focus groups to understand the pain points black entrepreneurs experience in working with banks. Many of them tell us a lack of access to capital is a barrier preventing them from growing their businesses from sole proprietorships to mature enterprises with multiple employees.

We announced a new initiative in February aimed at improving access to capital and business advisory services for black small business owners. The program is still under development and will officially launch later this year—but it will focus on preparing black entrepreneurs for the loan application process and provide better access to Chase’s Business Banking advisory services.

We brought in a coalition of partners to help us: including Black Enterprise, the National Minority Supplier Development Council, National Urban League, and U.S. Black Chamber. Ultimately, we’re aiming to get capital and advisory services to black entrepreneurs on a wide scale across the country. No matter what level their business is at, our goal is to be with them every step of the way throughout that process.

According to a recent McKinsey & Co. study, roughly 47% of African American households are unbanked. What are the factors that have led to such a dire scenario? What steps should be taken to give blacks the same access to financial institutions and products as their white counterparts?

Financial inclusion, which we define as having access to affordable financial services that meet your needs, is a human right. A lack of inclusion in our financial system is a big reason for the racial wealth gap and why so many black households are unbanked today. We’ve had these challenges for decades, and the problem has compounded over time—with interest.

But we will not sit idly by and admire the problem. We want to be part of the solution.

We’re focused on being proximate in the black community. This means we’re bringing access to knowledge about credit, investments, and making sure our products are affordable and aligned to where people are today. We’re opening branches in black communities, and offering Chase Secure Banking, a low-cost account with no overdraft fees and full access to our digital tools.

We’re opening our doors with Chase Chats to allow people to discuss their goals with us and how to achieve them in a no-shame, no-judgment environment. And since 80% of black American households rely solely on a black woman’s income, we started Currency Conversations last year in partnership with Essence to inspire these sisters, mothers, grandmothers, and aunts to talk about and take action on their financial goals. Last year, we engaged nearly 16,000 black women in our branches to talk about basic personal finance topics and how to get on a path to building wealth.

There is so much fear in the black community when it comes to banks and so much personal pain with finances. We will close this gap by being there for people—no matter what economic level they’re at.

Update us on the progress of Advancing Black Pathways in moving forward the black wealth agenda. What are your expectations of its impact over the next half-decade?

In February, we marked the first anniversary of Advancing Black Pathways and reflected on what we’ve accomplished in a short time.

We doubled the number of black businesses that supply goods and services to JPMorgan Chase and [the institution] got inducted into the Billion Dollar Roundtable—which is a group of U.S. companies that have spent at least $1 billion with diverse suppliers.

We also hired more than 1,000 black students in 2019, and our goal is to hire at least 4,000 by 2024. Earlier this year we committed $1 million to help HBCU students cover the cost of personal finance emergencies. Far too many black students don’t finish college due to financial hardship, and we’re committed to changing this.

By 2025, it is my hope and expectation that we’ll have hired thousands of black people into rewarding roles at JPMorgan Chase across all levels, helped thousands more get on a path to lasting financial health, and have succeeded in our goal to get countless more black students across the finish line.