RIBA Launches Three-Year Banking Diversity Workforce Program

Belén Dumont

PROVIDENCE—While Rhode Island banks employ over 9,600 individuals and have paid more than $589 million to the state’s employees, industry members have recognized a disconnect between its predominantly white workforce and the state’s growingly diverse population. 

The Rhode Island Bankers Association (RIBA) is in the beginning stages of a three-year diversity workforce initiative that looks to recruit and retain residents from historically underrepresented communities into the state’s predominately-white banking industry. 

“We [need] a workforce that is representative of the communities that we’re serving,” said RIBA President Keith Kelly. “If you look at the demographics of Rhode Island, this is the right time for us to be introducing a program like this as an industry. As the demographics change, our colleagues mentioned our demographics internally need to change as well.”

In 2022, Hispanic/Latino residents represented 17.6% of the state’s population compared to 12.4% in 2010; about 9.1% of the total population identifies as Black, compared to 5.7% in 2010.

Officially launched on September 27, Bank Forward looks to address the banking sector’s lack of diverse representation by collaborating with banking partners and volunteers to offer mentorship opportunities, host open forums, and lead recruitment and training efforts.

The launch event at Citizens Bank’s Providence office included breakout sessions where nonprofit, government, and banking entities explored ideas and offered feedback on career readiness, engagement, and outreach. About 20 participating RIBA member banks and local nonprofits were in attendance, according to a RIBA press release.

Around 18 banks have committed to financially supporting the initiative so far, for a total fund of over $200,000—with about $180,000 having already been collected—while several other banks have shown interest in supporting the program in other areas, according to Kelly. 

“We’re very optimistic and encouraged by the work that we’ve done so far and we’re just early out of the gates right now,” Kelly told Rhode Island Latino News. “With Marcela’s oversight of the program, coupled with her contacts within the underserved communities here in Rhode Island, we think we’re going to be off to a very, very good start.”

Bank Forward’s First Year: Goals and Priorities

Latino Policy Institute Executive Director Marcela Betancur, who’s leading the initiative as Bank Forward’s Community Talent Outreach Consultant, has worked closely with marginalized communities and minority-serving entities across the state since 2012.

Almost two months into the initiative, Betancur shared that her team has reached out to RIBA committees with experience in human resources and community development regarding the banking sector for insight and context.

“Our goal is to get a lot of their ideas and input as to what are the forefront needs for the initiative that they are seeing in their home bank sector in general,” shared Betancur. “I think it’s really important to understand, first, what those needs look like internally.” 

Betancur is also contacting local community organizations and government partners—including the Genesis Center and Fly initiative—on their own workforce initiatives and how banking career paths may have come up.

“We’ve connected with all of them because they do such great workforce programs [and] to better understand what they’re doing right now and what gaps and opportunities could exist for Bank Forward to support. It’s really important for the initiative that we don’t recreate the wheel, but rather uplift the partners that are already doing really good work and [think] ‘how do we embed ourselves in a thoughtful way?’”

Marcela Betancur

Betancur acknowledged the lack of demographic information currently available on the state’s banking industry, stating that it’s an issue the initiative is focused on but currently has to work around. 

In the meantime, Kelly shared that RIBA will be tracking several metrics including the number of individuals who attend seminars and events, how many of those residents apply and are selected for internship opportunities at various banks, along with how many of them are then offered full-time positions at those institutions. 

“Success this first year means how many community partners are we able to engage in activities, how many community individuals are we able to speak with and gather to share information about the initiative and more importantly, information about opportunities with banks,” Betancur explained. “As we go into year two and three, our goals will change to how many individuals can we actually either enroll into an actual job or more importantly…how many individuals that are currently in banking can we continue to support them to grow within their institution.”

Over the next three years, Betancur’s work will concentrate on reaching residents with different racial/ethnic, gender/sexuality, and disability backgrounds along with retention efforts and providing professional growth opportunities to employees.

“How do we carry this message of why banking as a profession is important, especially for communities that don’t see people like us in banking?” she said. “Because of our cultures and different experiences, we may not have a natural trust towards banking, how do we ensure that we can see ourselves in those spaces and understand that it’s a huge part of wealth building and just professional growth?”