On the back of the racial tensions that bubbled up in 2020, this year is already different. Financial firms are sponsoring and hosting events during Black History Month with a message of support.
TD Bank is sponsoring The Detroit Institute of Arts’ month-long series of online programs celebrating Black History Month, including music, film, and visual art.
Meanwhile, Capital One is launching a visual and auditory installation planned and executed by the bank’s Black associates in its Capital One Cafes in New York, Chicago, DC and New Orleans. The installation, called Forward, showcases Black Americans’ persistence, progress, and resilience. Then there are also select ATM vestibules which will feature soundbites voices from Black artists, poets, and historical figures.
The racial injustices of last year seemed to have fuelled an increased investment in Black History Month this year.
“Black History Month is seeing more recognition in 2021 because of the racial and social justice movement of 2020. Corporations are being held to a higher standard when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Toni Harrison, managing partner and president of Etched/Ten35, a communication firm specializing in multicultural audiences. “BHM celebrations are critical for any organization seeking to engage Black audiences. We saw this on a smaller scale with Juneteenth, when big brands that had never acknowledged the holiday rush to develop programs and observances for the day.”
With increased awareness of racial injustices in the U.S., companies might see this month as a chance to prove that their beliefs are aligned with those of their customers, investors and employees.
“Black History Month is good business and good for business,” said Dale Dowdie, president and CEO of Intellitech Consulting Enterprises and Co-Founder and CEO of BlackFacts.com, a website sharing videos and articles about Black history and current events affecting the Black community.
“With the work forces in all industries becoming more and more culturally diverse, many forward-thinking leaders are realizing that to many of their employees, customers and other stakeholders, ‘representation matters'," said Dowdie. “Company acknowledgment of events that are meaningful to them communicates the message that ‘we see you’.”
Since February 1st, JP Morgan Chase and Visa teamed up with United to offer five miles to every dollar United Club Visa Cardmembers spend as donations to specific organizations supporting civil rights and propelling higher education for Black youth. The offer is set to last until March 15.
Meanwhile, Wells Fargo, which went under fire last year for CEO Charles Scharf’s comment about ‘a very limited Black talent pool’, is investing in six Black-owned banks in honor of Black History Month, as part of its $50 million pledge to help communities that have been severely impacted by the pandemic.
Since the pandemic took hold in the U.S., banks have also seen an accelerated loss of trust among Black and Latinx customers. Black History Month could provide an opportunity to show support and appeal more to Black customers.
“Banks are in a precarious position. Consumer trust in banks has been on the decline for years. During COVID, Black and Latinx communities paid twice as much in bank fees,” said Etched/Ten35’s Harrison. “This means banks have a long way to go when it comes to connecting with Black audiences who have been lost in the financial system.”
Then there’s also the case that banks and financial companies’ increased attention towards Black History Month could count as strategy to appeal more to younger generations
“There's a general rising consciousness among business leaders (connected to this new social awareness) that building connections with the Black community is good for profit and purpose,” said Paul David, co-founder & CEO of Literal Humans, a Black-owned content marketing agency. “Gen Z and Millennials ‘stand’ for brands that take a strong stance, it's that simple.”
Many financial companies have been using their social media channels as ways to emphasize their observance of Black History Month -- for example, through Instagram.
Varo kicked off February 1st sharing a post honoring Black leaders. On that same day, Ellevest shared a quote on the platform honoring Black women. February 2nd, Chime shared quotes from ten Black female business owners.
Since ages 25 to 34 and ages 18 to 24 are the largest advertising audiences on Instagram, according to Hootsuite’s digital report in October 2020, financial companies could be using the platform specifically to market to younger generations.
But ultimately, to get more engagement from customers, financial companies will still need to think past advertisements, said Ida Byrd-Hill, CEO & Founder of Automation Workz, a management consulting firm.
“Many companies are realizing they have overlooked African Americans in generating their revenue. The Black Lives Matter Movement opened their eyes to the potential market,” said Byrd-Hill. “What many companies do not realize is that advertisements alone will not get them access to diversity markets. Higher ranking managers and executives who serve as ambassadors are needed to carve the path to revenue.”