You might not believe it, but beneath the silky, tailored-suit armor of a coldly efficient banking executive there sometimes beats a heart of gold. Americans were so busy bashing the banking industry over new fees and foreclosure scandals last year that we overlooked a lot of the good that banks did for people in need. While some banks spent much of 2011 ripping us off, others passed the year by donating to charity.
By “donating,” we’re not talking about JPMorgan “donating” 4.6 million to the NYPD for dealing with those pesky Occupy Wall Street protestors. We’re talking about banks giving money to good causes in exchange for nothing but good will and tax breaks. So, before you storm your local branch with torches and pitchforks, take a moment to consider some of the heartwarming things that banks did last year.
1) Luther Burbank Savings gives a house to the homeless. While some banks spent last year bulldozing all of their foreclosures to oblivion because they didn’t want to deal with them anymore, Luther Burbank Savings was busy converting its vacant homes into housing units for the homeless. Last month, in an unprecedented act of kindness, the California bank renovated and donated an abandoned two-bedroom ranch-style house valued at $290,000 to the Sonoma County Task Force for the Homeless. When asked why he decided to be so generous, Luther Burbank CEO John Biggs simply replied, “I think it meets a real need for the community.”
2) Cape Cod Cooperative Bank pimps disabled veterans’ ride. Disabled veterans will have an easier time getting to and from their medical appointments this year thanks to the Cape Cod Cooperative Bank. In recognition of Veterans Day, the bank bought two brand new vehicles for patients of the Hyannis VA Outpatient Clinic: a 12-passenger Ford Aerostar Van and a Ford Explorer that they painted with the coolest patriotic mural you’ll see all year.
3) Johnson Bank saves a grandmother from a scam. Grandmothers are sweet and adorable, but they’re also notoriously bad at spotting Internet scams. Such was the case of Margie Sweet, who rushed to her local bank after her “granddaughter” called from Barcelona begging for a $3,000 Western Union money transfer to repair her car. The teller at Johnson Bank recognized Ms. Sweet and, after hearing her story, suspected something was up. She told the elderly customer to have someone else call the number her granddaughter left to confirm the girl’s identity. When Margie got her nephew to do just that, they discovered that the person on the other line was actually an American man. The local newspaper ran a story on the rescue that same week.
4) Regions Bank gives $1 million to hurricane victims.Sometimes it takes a disaster to loosen a bank’s purse strings. When tornadoes leveled parts of Alabama and other Southern states in late April, it only took a day for Regions Financial Services – the largest bank in the Cotton State – to donate $1 million toward relief efforts. “Many areas have been hit hard by these storms, particularly our home state of Alabama,” said Grayson Hall, President and CEO of Regions Financial. “Now is the time to reach out and offer the help and assistance people need to begin rebuilding.”
America’s banking industry was responsible for some less-than-honorable practices last year, but you can’t take the bad without the good. If we want to admonish Bank of America’s attempted debit card fee, we also have to acknowledge that they donated 150 houses to charity in 2011.That might not be enough to get you to change your opinion of the banks, but that’s not what we’re trying to do. We just want our readers to understand that even when they’re at their most evil, banking industry executives are still human – just like you.