Regional President of BMO Harris Bank, Anthony Hudson shares his wealth of expertise in the financial industry with Dr. Vanessa Weaver, CEO of Alignment Strategies. His dedication to nurture wealth creation and business development in communities of color through the BMO EMpower initiative is inspiring. The following is an edited excerpt of their conversation.
Weaver: We are speaking about building Black and Latina wealth and a special initiative within BMO Harris Bank that has been created to nurture wealth creation and development in communities of color. Anthony Hudson is the Regional President of BMO.
Hudson: This year will be year nine for me with BMO and I have been blessed to serve in a variety of roles. From our wealth management team to help launch BMO EMpower. We have a focus on helping everyday customers in our business banking segment. We help individuals and families really grow their wealth.
Weaver: This is so important because the net worth of White families is somewhere between a $100,000 to $125,000 compared to the network of Black and Latino families, which is about $15,000.
Hudson: How do we close that wealth divide that we know exists? We know that it exists for Black and Brown people at disproportionate rates. The sooner we begin to solve for that wealth divide, the more empowerment goes back to diverse business owners, black and brown families. That circulates to diverse communities and shows up in a meaningful way.
We certainly knew that we needed to do more, but like many companies and many Americans we went through a period during the spring of 2020 and saw the tragic events: the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Amaud Arbery, and all the Black people that seemingly fell to their demise in a very unfortunate way. As a financial institution, we asked, how can we best position ourselves? Our leaders, CEO, Dave Casper and Darryl White, did a tremendous job of listening and hearing feedback.
Our tagline is “to boldly grow the good in business and in life.” After a lot of conversations and input by leaders across the organization in November of 2020, we launched BMO EMpower, with $5 billion that we’ve committed to deploy. One, it’s for us to show up in the moment and to help Black and Brown people, families, communities, businesses, when they were, and still are being impacted at disproportionate rates. Two, it isn’t just about one individual, but it’s about generational change. If we execute on this properly, this will be our way of putting a flag in the ground and combating systemic racism for many years to come.
Weaver: As a result of COVID almost 50% of black businesses just died. The Latina business was close behind with something around 42%. How does BMO EMpower help with that issue?
Hudson: Black and Brown businesses closed their doors at alarming rates over the last two years. 50-60% of black owned businesses closed their doors and won’t reopen. We had people that went to work for several months to create what is known as our Black and Latinx business banking program. It’s a line of credit, specifically for Black and Latinx business owners. We worked with our legal team, marketing partners, sales leaders, and with regulators to see how we can put together something that everyone feels good about. If we roll it out properly and we get it into the right hands, it will keep doors from closing. In the first year, we helped hundreds of businesses.
We piloted this product in the Chicago land area in Northwest Indiana. Our U.S. headquarters is in Chicago. That was why we drove the pilot there. In the first year, we were able to help over 300 Black and Latinx, small businesses keep their doors open. The conversation really began to shift from just keeping the doors open, to seeing an actual small business grow in this segment, the population that we were able to help. I think about BMO empower, particularly how we really get intentional about providing capital to Black and Brown business owners to help them be better, grow, and navigate the challenging times that we’re in.
Weaver: What’s been the secret of your bank and BMO EMpower?
Hudson: I think it starts with our CEO, Dave Casper. There is some humility in that we’ll never have this all figured out, but we’re constantly working to be better than we were yesterday. When we rolled out BMO EMpower to deploy $5 billion over five years, we also knew that we had to be very intentional about a communication plan. Every six months, since we launched, we have shared a press release on how we’re doing relative to deploying that cap. I’m pleased to say that today, just since November of 2020, we’ve deployed over $2 billion over a $5 billion commitment. We can connect the dots between capital that reached mid-market sized businesses, because we do have Black and Brown companies operating north of $10 million in annual sale. We’ve made intentional investments into funds that support Black and Brown businesses, about lending to developers that are building in diverse communities, and to our corporate social responsibility work, which includes our supplier diversity efforts. We have to measure it and be intentional about sharing that report card when it’s good or bad.
Weaver: Are there any kind of geographical restrictions or boundaries to being part of your BMO EMpower efforts?
Hudson: We have been very tactical about operating where we have branch distribution. That is largely in the Midwest, along with a presence that we have in both Florida and Arizona. We have a broader mandate, and our capabilities stretch the entire U.S. When we launched this initiative in November of 2020, we were putting together the business plan. When I thought about how we can lead Black and Brown businesses. DC, Maryland, and the Virginia corridor, statistically speaking, are where Black and Brown businesses thrive or at least are growing and maintaining at a rate that’s different than the rest of the country.
Weaver: You and I have been working on the wealth creation one and through our research, we know that one of the many big challenges for Black and Brown businesses is access loans and investment. Has that been your experience?
Hudson: For someone, to take advantage of services that financial institutions have to offer, readiness has a lot to do with. If I am never privy to someone in my area of business, to best practices and where landmines may reside or if I don’t have a small circle or professional partners that helped me to launch and grow and maintain; if I am not privy to diverse expertise that is willing to meet me where I am, then it will be very tough for me to effectively launch. BMO EMpower is one of our differentiators. We want to bring a diverse team of bankers to this group that we want to work with and that culturally understands you—has the expertise and experience to really understand your business. When we do have someone that quote unquote isn’t ready, today, we’re very intentional about how we wrap our arms around that individual and work towards a yes for the future.
Weaver: Why are you committed to this?
Hudson: I would not be here before you if I didn’t have people along the way, that made very intentional investments into Anthony Hudson. Now for me, it’s to use this platform to provide support, opportunities, and access. I think it’s also important that people have access to a network of individuals that understand them, their businesses and career goals can assist.
I think about access in terms of the diverse expertise. How you’re able to relate and connect with someone that looks like you to understand your background and customer base in a different way. Our ability to continue to provide access to education and expertise that is what’s worked for me in my own career. That’s what we’re doing and being intentional about. BMO Empower’s purpose is to help to elevate others.
Weaver: What are tips for Black and Latinx business owners who want to expand and grow their business?
Hudson: If I had to simplify it to three tips, here’s what I would tell them: Establish a team of trusted professional partners—a banking team, a legal team, and accountants. Those professional partners are critically important for business owners. There’re resources out that could be capital resources in terms of education and thought leadership. I think we must be very intentional about how we get our fair share of those resources. Do not let this moment pass us by and miss an opportunity to get a hold of resources that you’ve never had before. We all must do our part to plant more seeds that we know will bloom and blossom in the future. Whatever your role is, whatever seat you have it’s all our responsibility.