Citi Eyes Mortgage Tech in Push to Close Racial Wealth Gap
(Bloomberg) -- Citigroup Inc. said it will invest in digital mortgage offerings as part of its pledge to improve homeownership rates among communities of color.
The push to digital comes as Citigroup said the rate of applications and originations it processed for Black and Hispanic consumers dropped last year, even as it increased for Asian homeowners. In response, the firm is also still planning to expand its community lending team and its network of correspondent lenders, it said.
The firm’s pledge to increase homeownership among Black Americans is part of a broader three-year, $1 billion initiative it announced last year to help close the racial wealth gap in the U.S. As part of that effort, Citigroup also vowed to become an antiracist institution, provide greater access to banking products to communities of color and increase investment in Black-owned businesses.
“We know that many are rightfully calling on banks and other big companies to put real action behind their commitments,” Citigroup Chief Executive Officer Jane Fraser said in a statement. “Today, we’re sharing what we’ve done to date to show how Citi is committed to real change, and to be clear and transparent about how far we have to go.”
In the aftermath of Black Lives Matter protests across the U.S. last year, Citigroup and its banking rivals stepped up pledges to help Black Americans and communities of color gain more access to credit. On average, Black families in the U.S. have a 10th of the wealth of their White counterparts, and Black homeownership is at its lowest level in six decades.
Separately on Monday, Citigroup released its annual environmental, social and governance report, which details the racial breakdown of its U.S. workforce. The firm said 637 of its 11,234 top managers identify as Black, or 5.7%, a slightly higher share than a year ago.
Still, the bank is urging shareholders to vote against a proposal that would require its board to oversee a racial-equity audit that analyzes the firm’s adverse impacts on communities of color. Investors are set to vote on the proposal during Citigroup’s annual meeting Tuesday.
“Citi has a conflicted history when it comes to addressing racial injustice within the communities it serves,” CtW Investment Group said in defense of its proposal. “A racial-equity audit would help Citi identify, prioritize, remedy and avoid adverse impacts on non-White stakeholders and communities of color.”
Citigroup has pledged $550 million to support homeownership for people of color, and on Monday the firm said it’s in the final stages of committing $200 million in equity to affordable-housing projects that will be co-managed by five Black investment managers.
The lender will also expand certain mortgage products, like its HomeRun program, which requires lower down payments and removes mortgage-insurance requirements for lower-income borrowers. Citigroup is also partnering with the National Urban League to offer its low-fee Access savings and checking accounts to Black households in Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Louis and Hampton Roads, Virginia.
“The financial inequality and other systemic problems people of color face will not go away until we confront them head on,” Citigroup Chief Financial Officer Mark Mason said in the statement. “Citi is focused on ensuring that people of color have the same access to the financial tools and resources that benefit other groups.”
Citigroup has pledged $100 million to support minority deposit institutions in the U.S., which have seen their numbers dwindling in recent years. The firm’s already allocated almost half of that commitment to banks including Broadway Financial Corp., Mechanics & Farmers Bank and Optus Bank.
The bank is also working with Deloitte and the National Bankers Association to help minority deposit institutions improve their technology and better develop talent. The lender has also been piloting a training program with minority-owned, municipal broker-dealers and advisers.
“Equity investments are critical to our community impact but Citi is much more than an investor in Optus,” Dominik Mjartan, CEO of Optus Bank, said in the statement. “Citi is helping us grow our mission of building wealth, especially among Black-owned businesses, by creating new opportunities to grow our revenue.”
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