Black Americans have long been an integral part of the financial services and banking industry. To mark the importance of Black history as American history beyond February, we are highlighting some industry milestones and leaders who have helped shape our field.
Recognizing Financial Leaders of the Past
Joseph L. Searles III became the first Black floor member of the New York Stock Exchange on February 13, 1970. He was also the first Black CEO of the State of New York Mortgage Agency (SONYMA).
Maggie Lena Walker was the first Black woman to establish and serve as president of a bank in the United States. In 1903, she started her own bank, St. Luke Penny Savings Bank. The bank is still the oldest continuously operated Black-owned bank in the U.S.
Arthur George Gaston was a millionaire entrepreneur who started the Booker T. Washington Insurance Co. in 1923. He began with $500, which grew to an estimated $30 million business portfolio. Included in his portfolio was the only first-class accommodation in the city that accepted Black people at the time, the Gaston Motel in Birmingham, Alabama. Civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. stayed there.
Clifton Wharton Jr. became one of the first Black CEOs of a Fortune 500 company in 1987, heading TIAA-CREF, one of the world’s largest pension funds with assets of $260 billion. He was also the first Black president of Michigan State University. President Bill Clinton appointed him to be the first Black Deputy Secretary of State.
Black Excellence in the Financial Industry Today
Lauren Simmons, at 23 years old, became the New York Stock Exchange’s youngest and only female equity trader in 2018. She was also only the second Black woman ever on the floor. She reported that her annual salary was $12,000, compared to her peers earning over $100,000 annually. She decided to take action through podcasts, speaking engagements, and a web series to demystify money for women and help fight inequities. Since then, she has increased her own income, reportedly making $1 million last year.
Ashaki Bronson-Marcellus is a business banking market leader with BankUnited. She has been in the financial services industry for over 25 years and has been very successful in banking.
Robert Frederick Smith is an American billionaire businessman and philanthropist. He is the founder, chairman, and CEO of the private equity firm Vista Equity Partners. Forbes reports that with $96 billion in assets, Vista is one of the best-performing private equity firms, posting annualized returns of 31% since inception. He has been featured on both the Forbes 400 and Billionaires list in 2022.
Suzanne Shank is the president of Siebert Williams Shank & Co, one of the U.S.’s leading Black-owned financial firms. In 2010, the company made history, becoming the first minority- and woman-owned firm in Wall Street history to rank in the top 10 among municipal bond underwriters. She was named one of USA Today’s Women of the Century in 2020.
Learning about the past and present is a great way to start seeing all those gaps in the future.
The finance industry is one of many that exemplify the inequalities that exist for Black Americans. Banks and other financial institutions have contributed to systemic racism, while wealth and income disparities are a major cause of inequality.
A 2021 review of top companies by The Washington Post found that only 8% of C-suite executives are Black, though they account for about 12% of the total population. The disparity is even more significant when you consider CEOs. Only six of the top 500 companies have a Black CEO, or just over 1%.
In order to progress and drive change, we first need to recognize the history of Black Americans. At Howland Capital, we proudly celebrate Black strivers and achievers throughout our shared history and commit to being part of the conversation moving forward.