2 min read November 2021 — Citizens Bank is the oldest, continuously operating African American-owned bank in the country, and it was the first minority depository institution established in the state of Tennessee. In an interview with Invest:, Sergio Ora, president and CEO, discussed the bank’s mission, the current strength of minority communities, financial literacy efforts and his outlook for the region.
What is the history of Citizens Bank?
We are the oldest, continuously operating African American-owned bank in the country, and we were the first minority depository institution established in the state of Tennessee. We are a mission-driven institution that provides assistance to low- to moderate-income and other minority groups, enabling them to realize their economic dreams. We honor and cherish the legacy that our founding fathers have left for us but we’re also actively and excitedly looking toward the future because we want to make sure this institution is around for another century and beyond. Today, our assets amount to $125 million.
In what ways is Citizens Bank building 21st century technology infrastructure?
We can’t further positively impact the community unless we grow and become more profitable, which is creating an urgency to transform ourselves. To that end, we’ve completed the conversion of our core technology system to one that we firmly and strongly believe will allow us to be more agile, flexible and quicker. We’re moving away from bricks and mortar infrastructure. We’re moving into the world of technology. Our vision is that when people hear our story and want to be a part of our institution, location doesn’t prohibit them from becoming a part of Citizens Bank. It doesn’t matter where you are, whether you’re in San Francisco, Miami or across the pond, if you want to be part of what Citizens is doing, you can. We want to offer our services and products in that fashion, where geography is no longer an issue.
What is the strength of minority communities?
These communities have progressed some but not enough. Not only did the pandemic hit us in 2020 but a tornado also hit Nashville in March 2020 — right before the pandemic. That brought any sort of growth or improvement in the quality of life of the minority groups here to a standstill. Even today, they are still constrained from participating in the growth that has been occurring in the region.
How are you addressing declining financial literacy?
Financial literacy, especially among minority groups, is low and that’s one of our main areas of focus. When we talk about narrowing the gap in income and wealth, financial literacy is the bridge that narrows that gap. Our vision is very ambitious. Our vision is for financial literacy to be multigenerational. We’re focused on the 37208 area code (Davidson County), one school at a time. We start with elementary schools, teaching second-graders what banking is about. We partner with Junior Achievement to teach middle schoolers. Then we move to high-school kids, college students, adults and small businesses. Financial literacy has to transcend all of these generations and it has to be long-lasting. This is a marathon, not a sprint. For each individual we touch, especially students, we achieve a ripple effect through that individual’s friends, family and community.
What is your outlook for the North Nashville market?
It is bright and exciting. Everything seems to have fallen into place. With what we have done to strengthen the bank and further promote the revitalization of this area, everyone at this organization is very excited about what we can and will do in the future. We are calling 2022 the “breakout year.” 2022 will set us on a path on which we’re bound for success for years to come, and our institution will continue to positively impact the North Nashville market for the next 100 years.
For more information, visit: https://www.bankcbn.com/