Executive Letter: Leading through Uncomfortable, Yet Needed Change

By Rose Oswald Poels

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the country is divided for many reasons, and how bankers’ role as leaders has never been more important to help tackle our varied issues. My focus then was primarily on helping to improve the economic status of the unbanked by committing to provide products to bring those individuals into the protection and trust of the banking system.

The election results should resolve the intense political divide we’ve experienced leading up to this election, but many issues raised to show contrast between the parties during the campaign will linger. One of these issues, racial injustice, is another area where bankers are, and need to continue, stepping up to show leadership for their own institutions as employers, and for their communities as a service business.

Wisconsin’s communities are not isolated from events like George Floyd’s death. Simply look at the unrest in Kenosha and other peaceful demonstrations across the state to see how these tensions run deep in every area of the Badger State. There is no simple or overnight solution to solving racial inequity; however, as leaders, bankers once again have a unique opportunity to join the conversation if you haven’t already, and lead by example to help move us toward racial equity.

I recognize that for some, this conversation can be uncomfortable. However, I believe it is important for WBA to partner with its member banks to care for our minority bankers, support our minority customers, and bring more of our disenfranchised community members into the economic shelter that the banking industry provides.

In many ways, 2020 has been a year of much change and new experiences challenging the “comfort” of each one of us. This is true for myself, and for WBA. Both WBA staff and our Board of Directors are committed to addressing racial equity through discussion and action. We want to empower you, the leaders in your communities, to do the same.

WBA was recently one of three groups asked to represent financial institutions during a virtual town hall meeting in La Crosse, fielding direct questions about the difficulties minorities have in achieving home ownership. While the conversation was uncomfortable at times, it also provided the opportunity to showcase what banks are currently doing to improve the situation while acknowledging there is still room for improvement.

I’m also thrilled to announce a special event on December 9 to help all of us learn more about unconscious bias and racial equity. I am excited to share the details once they are finalized but look forward to the industry’s broad participation in this next step on our journey together.

Now, more than ever, as leaders in your communities, it is vitally important to have these conversations, learn how we can all improve, and then act on a path toward positive change. As always, I welcome your thoughts on how WBA can do more, and help the industry through these many, challenging issues.