Conversation with Steve Young
on an interview with Mara Peluso
I was interviewed for the newly-created position of retail
sales manager at Wainwright Bank. In that interview, Bob Glassman
and John Plukas, the bank's co-founders, said they would like
to influence the banking industry by providing a new model
and definition of success. "We would like to contemplate a
second bottom line, a noble social experiment, if you will,"
I had just spent 13 years at a large commercial
bank and had barely heard of Wainwright prior to my interview,
so I thought they were nuts. But their ideals seemed to
match mine, and it was the career opportunity of a lifetime:
Help create a retail bank in any manner I saw fit as long
as it was profitable and maintained a commitment to social
At the time, none of us really knew what
form that commitment would take. I am sometimes asked what
the implementation plan was and I have to answer: There
was none. We developed our social agenda, as we call it,
rather organically. We did what felt like the right thing
Yet I would say that because Wainwright
has a social mission, giving has been and continues to be
strategic for us. I suppose you could say that the art of
giving lies in our strategy, which is designed to carry
out our mission. All of our activities flow from our mission
With a sense of inclusion and diversity that
extends from the boardroom to the mailroom, Wainwright Bank
& Trust Company resolves to be a leading socially responsible
bank committed equally to all its stakeholders -employees,
customers, communities, and shareholders.
Our mission statement also describes the
role we believe social responsibility can and should play
in American corporations. At its heart, "social responsibility"
is a concept based on partnerships-among banks, their customers,
and the communities we all live and work in. In the typical
corporate model, shareholder concerns reign supreme, and
in most cases, are the only consideration. We think that's
a onedimensional view. We believe it results in diminished
benefits to society, while robbing a corporation of many
The funny thing is that before I started
working for Wainwright, I hadn't even heard the term "socially
responsible." Yet I was a socially responsible person, because
of my personal and political beliefs and actions; I just
didn't know it. As the bank has evolved and the mission
of social responsibility has come to define so much of who
we are, it has increasingly defined who I am as well.
When I describe how our bank's commitment
to social responsibility works, I like to break it down
into internal and external practices. Internally, we have
management practices that have been lauded nationally as
among the most progressive in the business world. Externally,
we are committed to community development and charitable
giving that promotes social justice. I consider both our
internal and external practices to be important ways of
Our social justice initiatives come from
all areas of the bank, literally; and that phenomenon is
directly related to our management practices. One example
is a financial empowerment program we offer for inner-city
youth. It was originated by Tony Robinson, one of our employees,
when he was working part-time in the mailroom. Tony is an
African-American ordained minister and one day he stopped
by my office and told me, "I can tell what this bank is
trying to do. You are trying to reach out to underserved
communities, but you aren't really reaching inner-city blacks."
I agreed with him and said that we were having a difficult
time reaching that population. He offered some ideas and
I took them to Bob Glassman, who said, "Sure. Give it a
whirl and let's see what happens."
Tony's ideas evolved into a pilot project
on which he worked part-time. That work evolved into a full-time
job, and now Tony is our community development officer and
an assistant vice president. The project has been so successful
that the FDIC has come to us and said, "No one else is doing
this like you are." Every bank is expected to do financial
literacy work in the community, but our program really works,
because we are committed to empowering others-including
our employees and the community. Tony created both his own
job and a highly successful program. We are all empowered
to develop in this way because of the attitudes of the people
at the top [the current co-chairs and the founders]. That
is part of our organization's values.
We also have a lot of fun. (Bob likes to
say, "Yes, we are a bank, but we can't take ourselves too
seriously.") Our retention rate is higher than the industry
standard and we have a whole file drawer full of resumes
of people waiting to work here. People are always telling
me, "I am happy with my current job, but if you have an
opening, let me know, because I want to work for Wainwright.
I would move to work for you." People like to work here
because of our values and because we try hard to stay aligned
with our values. We treat our employees fairly and generously.
We encourage diversity. (Currently, more than 22 languages
are spoken among our employees.) The average starting teller
nationwide gets one week's vacation, but here they get three
weeks. We feel that if you treat employees well, then they'll
be happy and will treat customers well. And you know what?
It works! Instead of mandating, "Smile. Shake customer's
hands," we just say, "Come to work and you'll work hard,
but you can be yourself and have a little fun." We have
33% fewer employees than most banks our size, so we all
wear many hats, but we get paid more and have better benefits,
such as flex-time for elder care, child care, and job sharing.
All these are ways we give to our employees.
Externally, we have a charitable giving
program, which arose from Bob Glassman's belief in sharing.
In fact, he has said, "You can't call yourself a millionaire
unless you've given away a million dollars." Most banks
offer 1% or less of their pre-tax income to charity. (Some
offer more and some less, but that is the average.) We pledge
3% of our pre-tax income to our charitable budget each year,
but for the past four years, have actually given around
Part of our giving strategy is to support
organizations that others may shy away from. Again, it flows
from our mission of inclusion and diversity and our commitment
to partnership. We support issues of social justice, such
as women's rights and HIV/AIDS services, and we tend to
lean towards progressive organizations. As a successful,
publicly traded company with profits to share, we have the
opportunity to provide funding to nonprofit organizations
that are addressing the issues we have identified, and in
turn, we get their business. So it all flows. It's a partnership.
Because we are known to support the nonprofit
community so well, one nonprofit goes to another and says,
"Go to Wainwright and start an account. They are so awesome."
We can show them that when they make a deposit with us,
their money goes into community development lending. They
know that by doing that, they are stewarding their money
well, and using it to support their own social-service goals.
We currently support more than 300 nonprofit clients, which
is a lot for a bank our size.
So, for me, the art of giving is about having
a mission that drives our strategy, and choosing to give
through all that we do in the organization-both internally
in the way we treat our employees, and externally, as we
give to others. That kind of giving naturally forms partnerships
that benefit everybody.
Steven F. Young is a senior vice president
at Wainwright Bank & Trust Company and the executive
manager of the Consumer Banking Group. Mr. Young is one
of the architects of the bank's progressive social agenda,
working closely with Wainwright Bank co-founder and co-chairman
Robert A. Glassman.
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