Huntington commits $20B to new community plan

Steve Wartenberg
Columbus CEO

The growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, demonstrations for social justice and the economic hardships and job losses caused by the Covid-19 pandemic led to a big announcement by Huntington Bancshares this morning. The Columbus-based bank’s new Community Plan will lend $20 billion over the next five years to support homeownership, home improvement, small businesses, and for workforce development to help moderate- and low-income people and companies in the seven Midwestern states in which it operates.

“This has been an extraordinary period with the pandemic, compounded by the deaths of George Floyd and others and the escalation of awareness of discrimination and the issues of social equality,” Steve Steinour, Huntington’s chairman, president and CEO told Columbus CEO.

These national developments led to hundreds of intense and often emotional discussions throughout the company, Steinour said, and the desire to do something to help communities. Through the company’s business resource groups and spontaneous get togethers, more and more colleagues began making suggestions and asking leadership to take action.

“There would be reason as CEO to say, no, this isn’t the time to step in, let the situation solidify,” Steinour said. “But our colleagues asked us to do this, and that’s the culture of this company and why I’m so proud to be here … the paramount need is right now, so why wait?”

Huntington announced a $16.1 billion Community Plan in 2017 that was to run through the end of 2021. It provided similar types of loans and community development and was completed more than a year ahead of schedule.

“The economy was doing well and the relationships our colleagues have with the hundreds of organizations we partnered with in communities made it possible,” Steinour said of the first Community Plan, adding there’s been “a very high percentage of paybacks” on the tens of thousands of loans.

“Huntington Bank sets the bar for their commitment to increasing working-poor people’s access to credit, capital and basic banking services,” John Taylor, founder and president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, said in a statement. This is one of the many nonprofit organizations Huntington has teamed with through its Community Plan.

The need is great, said U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, who was a participant in a virtual press conference to announce Huntington’s Community Plan on Monday morning. “It will take a sustained commitment from all of us, including our financial institutions, to meet the needs of all our neighborhoods and address racial inequities in healthcare, economic opportunity, and access to safe, affordable housing,” he said in a statement. “I applaud Huntington for working with community organizations throughout Ohio and in the neighboring states it serves.”

Earlier this year, there were no plans for a new Community Plan. Or to commit $20 billion to the process.

“It wasn’t even on the drawing board,” Steinour said, adding everything changed with the pandemic and demonstrations for social justice. “Doing good is good business and when things got really tough, with 10-percent unemployment, it was time to step up and show some leadership.”

Steve Wartenberg is a freelance writer for Columbus CEO.