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VOL. 127 | NO. 186 | Monday, September 24, 2012

Return on Investment

Banks, financial institutions find value in giving back to community

By Andy Meek

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Most people already know some of the basic elements of the banking business. From the large national lenders with a Memphis presence to the community banks in the suburbs, one common element is they make money by charging borrowers more than the bank pays in interest to depositors.

Nancy Walls helps students with a craft during a visit to Hawkins Mill Elementary School. Paragon National Bank employees visit Kimberly Martin’s third-grade class several times a year.

(Photo Courtesy of Paragon Bank)

The industry as a whole was pilloried during the Great Recession as a rapacious profit machine, and banks – including many locally – tried to counter that with things like constantly talking up the loans they’re continuing to make to homeowners and business owners.

That’s an attempt to show their value to communities. But it’s easy to overlook another key feature of the bank industry’s identity, partly because the industry as a whole doesn’t talk about it as much as it does the elements of its core mission and business.

That feature is the role banks play as a civic force in Memphis.

They are patrons, for example, of the city’s arts and parks. Banks write some of the biggest checks to area nonprofits, and bank executives staff many of those nonprofit boards. They do everything from providing financial literacy education to supporting housing rehabs and development.

Joe DiNicolantonio, West Tennessee area president for Regions Financial Corp., is serving as the 2012 general campaign chairman for United Way of the Mid-South. Separate from that, his bank’s employees in 2011 provided financial education courses in more than 100 west Tennessee schools. And during the month of September, Regions bankers will visit Shelby County schools, meeting with faculty about the benefits and features of the bank’s financial products and services.

In January, Regions began partnering with the Shelby County Trustee’s office on Project H.O.M.E. Financial literacy workshops are held each month, and representatives from Regions and the Trustee’s office are available at each workshop to discuss personal finance management and tax payment arrangements.

Meanwhile, several of Magna Bank’s mortgage officers founded the Youth Villages 5K, and they’re still deeply involved with the effort today. The bank is one of the sponsors and fundraisers of the event, and it also raises money for Youth Villages’ Holiday Heroes during Christmas.

In October, Magna’s Oak Court branch will be the sponsor and location of the annual Ronald McDonald House Pop-Tab Palooza.

There are plenty of other examples. Since its beginning, Paragon National Bank has provided 40 hours of time each year for all employees to participate with a non-profit during regular business hours. Sixty-eight percent of the bank’s employees participated in 19 nonprofit organizations during 2011.

Likewise, Independent Bank is another generous patron and supporter of community-focused efforts including the National Civil Rights Museum, The Leadership Academy, the Church Health Center, the Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence and many more.

Wells Fargo managers and team members have chosen 13 nonprofits across the Memphis area for grants as part of the annual Days of Giving program, in the third year of a program in which team members honor groups helping their local communities.

Phillip May, Memphis president for Metropolitan Bank, said that from the beginning, his bank’s philosophy toward philanthropy has been to focus donations on what its associates, board members and clients are involved in.

“Being a fairly young bank, we’re still building, and will continue to build, the financial commitment we are able to offer the community,” May said. “As our revenues continue to grow, so will our donations to local nonprofit organizations. The organization we currently offer the most support to is the Ronald McDonald House, who actually named us the Volunteer Group of the Year last year.

“In addition to being the main sponsor for its Sportin’ Fore Kids Weekend in August, we have volunteered in every capacity from working the radiothon and setting up holiday decorations to cooking for resident families and manning the annual Big Scoop event. Some other organizations we support financially are St. Jude, Neighborhood Christian Centers, Humane Society of Memphis & Shelby County and Arts Memphis.”

The Bank of America Charitable Foundation recently announced it’s awarding $35,000 in grants to Memphis nonprofits that provide services including building and rehabbing of affordable housing, homeowner counseling, and foreclosure prevention programs. The funds are part of $22 million in housing-related grants that will impact low- and moderate-income communities in 34 states.

SunTrust Banks Inc. had 230 local employees log more than 1000 volunteer hours in 2011. And the bank is on pace to double that this year.

SunTrust also provides scholarship money to the University of Memphis, Rhodes College, Lemoyne Owen College and Southwest Community College annually in addition to supporting more than 40 local charities and nonprofits.

Bank of Bartlett’s leadership group has served yearly on academic boards and donated to a variety of local higher education institutions, among other causes.

The First Tennessee Foundation was established in 1993 to support nonprofit organizations in the communities First Tennessee Bank serves.

And since its inception, the foundation has donated more than $27 million to meet community needs in Memphis.

“We are the second largest supporter of United Way in the Mid-South,” said Penny Aviotti, the foundation’s manager. “We haven’t kicked our campaign off this year yet, but statewide, last year employees pledged more than $1.6 million … . We also donate to local hospitals and support St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Baptist Memorial Healthcare and Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare.”

In the arts, one of the foundation’s signature investments is ArtsFirst, a program to promote excellence and enrichment in the arts in Memphis.

“For the environment and great outdoors living, we support Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, Overton Park, Wolf River Conservancy and the Greater Memphis Greenline, which connect all these projects by turning unused railway right-of ways and easements into a recreational park/hiking-biking trail system,” Aviotti said.

PROPERTY SALES 23 23 1,365
MORTGAGES 21 21 1,068
BUILDING PERMITS 117 117 3,173