Commercial Appeal: First Tennessee’s $4 billion push into poorer neighborhoods

Commercial Appeal, May 4, 2018: First Tennessee’s $4 billion push into poorer neighborhoods

First Tennessee’s recent agreement to commit — mainly lend — $4 billion in poorer neighborhoods over the next five years is average for U.S. banks, but a significant step among the more conservative Southern banks.

That’s according to Jesse Van Tol, a national advocate for economic justice who negotiated the deal with First Tennessee and who happens to have deep Memphis roots.

“I think their agreement is no better or no worse than many of our agreements,” said Van Tol, chief executive of the Washington-based National Community Reinvestment Coalition. This was the seventh agreement with banks he has negotiated in two years.

“(But) the context is important,” Van Tol said. “This is Memphis. I grew up in Memphis. My father had a long career in Memphis; a lot of what he did was this kind of work …” he said, referring to Hubert Van Tol, head of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center in 1985-1996.

“Many banks in the South are a little more conservative, a little less willing to innovate and take risks and a little less willing to lend to people of color,” Jesse Van Tol said.

“I do think it’s significant that First Tennessee is stepping up this way,” he said. “It’s probably indicative of a larger transformation within the bank.”

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