Focusing on Solutions in Baltimore

By Kathleen Murphy

How could this be? I asked myself as I watched helicopter news footage of the Baltimore riots following the death of a young man in police custody this spring. My mind grappled with these images unfolding in downtown thoroughfares before a backdrop of well-known landmarks.

It was hard to believe what I was seeing. Just two years prior, news cameras recorded a city that came together— 200,000 strong—in a jubilant, unified celebration on the same streets as Baltimore Ravens fans celebrated the team’s second Super Bowl victory.

Things are different now. Perhaps this is the cusp of meaningful change, of a coming together of creative minds to solve the systemic issues faced in our state and across the country where poverty exists: jobs, transportation, day care, housing, education and positive role models.

Because of the turmoil in Baltimore this spring, and our industry’s response 
to it, I have a greater appreciation that banker leadership is impactful—quietly and collaboratively. In fact, it has given me a remarkable sense of inspiration and hope. Here is a snapshot of Maryland bankers’ “legacy of service” in the immediate aftermath of the unrest and as the city looks toward the future.

Communication. By 9 a.m. on the day after the riots, our members with branches in Baltimore asked the Maryland Bankers Association to collect and disseminate branch opening and closing schedules as well as substantiate rumors of more unrest. Our members wanted to provide access to banking services, yet keep their employees and customers safe. For a week, we provided updates in half-hour increments beginning at 5 a.m.

Things were fluid in the days following the unrest, particularly as “news” swiftly moved through social media. MBA served as a conduit for our members in the same way that our counterparts across the country have done when faced with challenges in their states. It’s what our members expect of us and is a role we gladly serve.

Relationships and reputation. Banks and communities are intertwined. Because MBA’s members work collaboratively with community partners every day, they were poised to ratchet up their support and involvement to help Baltimore address its priorities. MBA convened conference calls with city and state officials so that banks were informed of loan funds created to address the immediate need of reopening the more than 350 businesses impacted. Banks, among others, provided funding for these loans. Banks also worked directly with their affected customers. Our members responded in other ways, including bringing food and medical supplies to senior housing communities until damaged pharmacies could be restored.

Long-term solutions. MBA and our members are engaged with other community leaders to address housing and workforce needs. As a community development officer for one of our member banks said, “The true value that we add is providing the intellectual capital, and bringing partners to the table that can create synergies to move the needle on various community issues where ‘unmet’ needs exist.” Along with our members, MBA is examining the regulatory barriers hindering banks from doing more in housing and community development. Policymakers are also asking this question. What we are looking for is where the banks’ views converge with those of community stakeholders.

Our members believe a broad stakeholder coalition can impact positive change.

It doesn’t take a crisis to summon banker leadership. MBA members—small, regional and large banks and their 40,000 employees—have been an integral part of the fabric of Baltimore for centuries. In fact, MBA’s founder 120 years ago was Enoch Pratt, a banker and philanthropist who created the free library system in Baltimore, among his numerous legacies. We cannot underestimate banks and bankers who, through their dedicated service and philanthropy, are strengthening Baltimore and influencing the broader discussion of how to lift communities.

Kathleen Murphy is president and CEO of the Maryland Bankers Association.