The blog

What's the big idea?

Welcome to the Amalgamated blog, a space for leaders and contributors from inside and outside Amalgamated Bank to share thoughts, opinions, and musings about topics relevant to our bank's mission and customers, the financial industry at large, and national and international affairs. Check back in for new content weekly.

 

Public Broadcasting: An Indispensable Public Good

NEW YORK, March 23, 2017 — Politico recently posted an article that caught my eye – “Can Big Bird survive Trump?”

As a child raised in rural North Florida during the 1970s, PBS (Public Broadcasting System) was a staple of my TV viewing. In fact, it was the only thing I was allowed to watch as a small child. For me, Sesame Street was preschool; it provided a mechanism to learn the alphabet, numbers, and even some Spanish language, prior to beginning kindergarten. As an only child until age four, living in an area somewhat isolated from other children, Grover, Kermit, Cookie Monster, and Big Bird were my friends and daily companions for an hour or more.

And I know it wasn’t just me. Millions of children, especially those in rural or low income communities with a lack of access to affordable preschool, have benefitted from quality public programming for decades. In fact, a 2015 study from the University of Maryland found that Sesame Street has helped children – especially boys, African Americans, and low income children – dramatically reduce their likelihood of falling behind academically in school.

The latest generation of PBS programming – including Arthur, Curious George, Bob the Builder and a host of others – continues to help uplift children in a variety of communities today, especially those who are disadvantaged. The elimination of federal funding for public broadcasting threatens the development and well-being of these children.

The role of public broadcasting is vital to our nation’s children, particularly in rural areas, which form the base of President Trump’s voters. The fact that the President’s first budget document proposes the elimination of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (both NPR and PBS) is both surprising and telling.

The Administration’s Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, referring to coal miners, (a.k.a. rural Americans) said, “We can ask them to pay for defense, and we will, but we can’t ask them to continue to pay for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.” Respectfully, he couldn’t be more misguided – or just plain wrong. Our children, both rural and urban, benefit immensely from the programming provided by PBS. Using federal funding to support public broadcasting is an investment in our children and our collective future.

This may seem like an unlikely issue for a national bank to speak out on, but here at Amalgamated Bank, we are committed at every level to help those who do good, do better. Public broadcasting has, since its creation in 1967, been a shining example of that uncompromised public good – one we cannot afford to lose for future generations. That’s why we’re calling on Congress to stop playing politics, and continue federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

We are more than just a bank. We are concerned citizens just like you. Only by speaking truth to power, even when it’s about defending Big Bird, will we ensure a brighter future for all.

An ID for All, Without Fear

NEW YORK, March 20, 2017 — In January, Amalgamated took the opportunity to weigh in on a lawsuit filed in connection with New York City’s municipal ID card program (IDNYC). The program makes government identification cards available to all New Yorkers; this includes residents of the city who do not have traditional forms of identification such as driver’s licenses or similar forms of ID. City residents who do not have proper identification are oftentimes barred from access to their children’s schools and other government buildings, and are even unable to meet the requirements for legally signing a lease to rent an apartment. The IDNYC program seeks to remove these impediments.

When you can’t enter a courthouse or get a library card, it can make you feel like a second-class citizen. IDNYC affords all New Yorkers the opportunity to come out of the shadows, which is why the bank has been an enthusiastic supporter of this program since its inception in 2015. Amalgamated was one of the first banks to recognize IDNYC as a valid form of identification and we view the municipal ID as an important tool to reach and provide needed government and financial services, including bank accounts, to the underbanked and the unbanked.

The legislation creating the IDNYC program mandated that the city retain, for two years, the records individuals present in order to get the municipal ID. At the end of this two-year period, the city then had the option of either continuing to retain the records or destroying them.

In December of last year, two members of the state assembly filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court of New York in Staten Island to prevent the city from destroying records gathered from individuals applying for the municipal ID. Among the arguments made by the plaintiffs in the suit is that it is necessary for the city to retain the records so that law enforcement will not be impaired in its ability to investigate and prevent financial crime and potential terrorist attacks.

In an initial hearing in the case, the presiding judge invited the State of New York and anyone else interested in doing so to participate as amicus curiae and file briefs in the case. An amicus curiae (translated as “friend of the court”) is a person or entity who is not a formal party to the suit but believes it has special expertise and an interest in the case sufficient to have its views known to the court. The usual role of the amicus is to offer facts and insights to the court that the formal parties to the suit would not be expected to know.

Amalgamated Bank seized this opportunity and filed a brief. In it, we suggested to the court that concerns that destruction of the city’s records would leave law enforcement without the means to investigate and prevent financial crimes were baseless. The brief pointed out that under various federal laws and regulations, including the Bank Secrecy Act, the bank must obtain and keep various records for all accountholders that show basic information, precisely the kind of records that might be helpful to law enforcement to prevent or investigate financial crimes. These are records that are available to law enforcement with a valid purpose and subpoena.

Regardless of the retention period used by the city, the bank made clear that we will retain records that law enforcement can use lawful means to obtain as part of any investigation. We are proud to have been afforded the opportunity to weigh in on this case and offer our expertise in a subject matter about which we feel strongly.

Urban Housing and Economic Growth

NEW YORK, March 15, 2017 — Living in the same city where you work fosters a critically important connection to the community and people you serve. Yet for firefighters, police officers, teachers, nurses and millions of other low- and moderate-income workers in urban areas, it can be a herculean challenge to find safe, affordable housing near where they work. Since the housing and economic crash of 2008, cities have failed to keep pace with the demand for housing for low- and moderate-income renters and owners, forcing too many workers to live away from the communities that need them most. In its Housing Finance at a Glance Monthly Chartbook, the Urban Institute reports that, for the majority of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, home sales prices are less affordable in 2016 that they were in 2003.

The private market is doubling down on amenity-rich, city-center housing, which is simply too expensive for all but the highest paid workers to afford. And many municipalities and state governments are taking laudable steps to invest in subsidized housing to serve the homeless or those living in poverty. Unfortunately, low- and moderate-income workers still face a dearth of affordable housing options and continue to be priced out of the cities where they work. Even without any further cuts to federal housing support by the Trump Administration, the Center on Budget and Housing Priorities projects that due to the 2011 Budget Control Act, rental vouchers for 25,000 low income households will lose funding in 2017.

Housing insecurity also means urban centers are losing potential for economic growth. Without middle-income earners living in or near our largest population centers, the economy quickly becomes constrained and sometimes even incapable of growth. These middle-class families are critical drivers of local businesses, spending income on transportation, child-care, and retail goods for their households. They contribute to the region’s tax base, helping to fund local schools and public services. Without these members of the labor force living within the cities they serve, the culture and vitality of cities themselves begin to suffer.

Amalgamated Bank understands this critical gap in the urban housing market, and has been working to help fix it for more than 80 years. Back in the 1940s, Amalgamated Bank helped fund the first union-supported housing development in the country, housing 700 moderate-income families at first, and eventually growing to house over 1,400 families. In 1957, we offered home loans to the shareholders of the Park Reservoir Housing Cooperative in the Bronx, the state’s first affordable development created under the Mitchell-Lama Housing Program.

Our work to create affordable housing options continues to this day. Today, more than half of our commercial real estate loans are made in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, helping workers afford to keep living in the communities they serve. Amalgamated Bank now has a loan program to fuel construction of up to $100MM in affordable multifamily housing in New York across all five boroughs, Nassau County, and the Hudson Valley. And our work doesn’t stop in New York. In 2015, a 25-unit affordable housing development for seniors broke ground in Washington, D.C.

As private housing construction has turned away from affordable and moderate housing over the past several decades, it has created opportunities for Amalgamated and others to use our assets to build a stronger, more accessible economy for all. Recently, we've redoubled our efforts to finance the development of multifamily and mixed use properties located in areas and priced at a level that will allow middle income households to return to the cities where they work. Additionally, through a Responsible Contractor Policy, we will work to ensure that we increase job opportunities for low and moderate income workers.

As the bank with values, we take our role in addressing the nation’s housing shortage seriously. Working families are the backbone of our nation’s economy and, unless they are given the opportunities they need to succeed, we will continue to watch cities become unaffordable to all but the very affluent. We take pride in our ability to offer financing for affordable housing to help counter this trend. Every member of the workforce should have the opportunity to live in the city in which they work and a chance to feel invested in a neighborhood they’ve helped to create.

Environmental Protection: Now A Private Sector Responsibility

NEW YORK, March 6, 2017 — Even as we have worked to address climate change over the past decade, it is clear that even our most ambitious goals are not enough to stop dangerous climate trends. Now, we face the possibility that even the modest progress we have made could be rolled back by new policies that will accelerate irreparable damage to our planet and we still have no sensible public policy to assist workers who are impacted by common sense environmental and public health regulations.

With new leaders in Washington who don’t believe in science or climate change, key environmental protections and global agreements are at serious risk. Obama-era limits on greenhouse-gas emissions and regulations that keep our water safe and clean will likely be rolled back. America’s participation in the international Paris Climate Agreement, which the US championed, is now up in the air. Within our own borders, we see how rising sea levels, extreme weather, and pollution are threatening vulnerable communities from coast to coast.

We simply cannot allow or afford any rollback in policies that will keep our planet safe. These are risks our planet simply cannot afford. As the bank with values, we don’t just ‘talk the talk’ when it comes to climate change. We are proud that Amalgamated Bank is leading the way among financial institutions in the fight for an environmentally responsible future.

We are not the only bank to support the Paris Climate Agreement or the use of renewable energy, but for most financial institutions, climate advocacy starts and ends with a press release. Since 2013, top global banks have contributed $786 billion in fossil fuel funding, including coal power finance, tar sands development, LNG export and pipelines. They have also donated millions of dollars to political candidates and politicians who deny the very existence of climate change, even as we see and feel its effects all around the globe.

Amalgamated Bank is different. We are committed to a greener, more sustainable planet, and our practices reflect that from top to bottom. At Amalgamated, our customers can rest assured that we don’t lend any of their money, or even the bank’s own money, to fossil fuel projects. We have also established the Longview Low Carbon Fund, providing our customers with the option to invest in financial portfolios free of fossil fuels. And our bank will never donate to a climate denier, or any politician who threatens our future with willful ignorance.

By the end of this year, Amalgamated Bank will run on 100% renewable energy – starting with new solar panels installed by workers from IBEW Local 3 on our flagship branch in the Bronx, which will generate an impressive 37,000 kWh of clean energy this year alone. We have also made a commitment to operate with net zero electricity over the course of 2017 and into the future, making us the second largest net zero bank in the country. We want all Americans to have the opportunity invest in renewable energy; which is why we offer our customers a unique and special line of credit to install solar panels on their own homes. While we know all too well that investments in renewable energies can have negative impacts for workers—especially union workers in construction -we also need to work to create better opportunities that allow for smart infrastructure development, which requires their critical skillset, and does so without leaving a toxic imprint on our environment.

This work and commitment to our environment has not gone unnoticed. It’s part of the reason many of the nation’s leading climate advocacy organizations – including the US Climate Action Network, Blue Green Alliance, Our Revolution, the League of Conservation Voters and Climate Hawks Vote – choose to bank with Amalgamated. It’s also why our bank just received the globally recognized B corporation certification, awarded only to good corporate actors around the world committed to responsible governance and transparency.

We understand that being a bank for hard working Americans also means protecting the world that allows businesses and communities to thrive. We will continue to speak truth to power on climate change, and stay true to our mission to do the most good for the most people. As climate deniers continue to gain power in Washington and state houses across the country, it’s increasingly up to the private sector to be catalysts for change and bulwarks against those trying to turn back the clock on the progress we’ve made to protect our environment.

A Plea for Fair and Inclusive Immigration Policy

NEW YORK, February 24, 2017 — The debate surrounding immigration has always been a lively one wherein politicians have presented arguments advocating for everything from amnesty to closing the borders. Over the years, compromises have been made that call for tighter border security but have also made legal immigration a less laborious endeavor. Inherent in these deals was an understanding that, despite the laws on the books, those who hadn’t committed serious crimes would not be imperiled. Now, as a result of newly signed executive orders, undocumented workers are staying shacked up in their homes in fear of being deported while bringing their children to school, driving to the grocery store or going for a check-up at the doctor. This is not the type of immigration reform we want to see nor is it the America we want to live in.

Amalgamated Bank was founded in 1923, just two years after the signing of the Emergency Quota Act, which put into law a system that restricted the number of immigrants admitted into the US based upon their nation of origin’s representation in the US already. The Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, the union from which Amalgamated Bank was founded, was made up of predominately immigrant garment workers who felt the effects of both the discriminatory approach Congress had taken and the fiscal implications that came with it. Rather than continuing the trend of shunning immigrant workers and families, Sidney Hillman chose to embrace immigrant populations and founded Amalgamated Bank to give these individuals safe and reliable access to banking.

The Emergency Quota Act, with some tweaking, remained in place until 1965 when Congress replaced it with a preference design system to attract skilled workers and unite immigrant families. In 1986, Congress took further action providing amnesty to a certain subset of immigrant workers and in 1990, expanded the legislation passed in 1965. Since then, little bits and pieces of bipartisan immigration reform have passed with an eye towards a globalized economy and the need for skilled labor while also protecting the border.

Now, with a shift towards policies reminiscent of 1921, we must call on our allies from the non-profit sector and advocacy groups to do the brave work Amalgamated did years go. Youth groups like United We Dream must continue to organize and advocate for fair treatment. We need the New York Immigration Coalition to pursue policy objectives that protect immigrant populations. And through the Hispanic Federation, we must continue to strengthen our Latino institutions. We’re proud to call these groups our clients and allies and we’ll continue to serve as both their bank and their ally to ensure that they’re able to provide for those who need them most.

Together, we’ll work to create a fair and inclusive immigration policy that we can all be proud of that frees immigrants from the shadows.

 

Investing in a Better Tomorrow

NEW YORK, February 20, 2017 — “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion.”   –Abraham Lincoln

These stirring words were spoken by arguably the greatest leader in the history of our nation; a man whose bold thinking incited perhaps the greatest progressive revolution of all time; a man who so cherished the sacred principles of freedom and justice for all, of equal rights for every man, woman and child, he gave his life for that greatest cause.

As we celebrate Presidents' Day here at Amalgamated Bank, we are forever inspired by the heroism of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington—both through their words and their deeds—and like every individual and organization we serve, we also aspire to live by our better angels. President Obama and the leaders of Congress worked incredibly hard to “do good” in 2010, advancing critical legislation and creating new standards of honesty, diligence, and transparency in the financial services industry, all to prevent a return to the corrupt practices which enabled the Great Recession. We can only hope they, like Lincoln, “felt good” from taking action to protect the public trust and to create a level playing field with equal opportunity for all.

Today, as our current administration begins to roll back the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act—the revolutionary statute which helped sustain the global market economy and safeguarded the investments of all Americans through an historic crisis—we all have to ask ourselves how anyone could want to do this, especially when it’s opposed by a majority of Americans, according to most recent polling. There is no answer beyond the obvious: it is an attempt to help the rich get richer, at the expense of the working people of our country.

But this destructive effort will have absolutely no impact on how we do business at Amalgamated Bank, because we are committed to a higher standard: our own.

This is the very first of our Guiding Investment Principles: “All investments and investment management decisions shall be executed in the best interest of Investment Management Division clients and associated client beneficiaries.” Think about that; everything we do in our investment management must satisfy this very high bar, and must be consistent with this core commitment we make above all else.

As it did for Lincoln, it makes us all feel good as compassionate and caring human beings—both those of us who work at Amalgamated Bank and more importantly the customers and clients we serve—that we weigh environmental, social, and good governance factors heavily in making all our investment decisions. It makes us all feel good to know that together we are investing in new housing that will enable the most critical members of our workforce—the firefighters, the teachers, and the police—to live in the cities and towns they serve, in order to restore the sense of reassurance, comfort and Americana that comes with making them our friends and neighbors once again. It makes us all feel good to know that together we are investing in not just a carbon- and tobacco-free world, but in the process investing in a better tomorrow as well. We make these commitments and decisions today so our children and grandchildren can inherit the world of wonder, opportunity and sheer joy which has inspired our lives, and which they deserve to experience as well.

It makes us all feel good knowing we are able to create positive social impact and generate good returns for our investors at the same time.

But all of this is only possible because we are dedicated first and foremost to earning the great trust awarded to us everyday by our clients and customers. This is why we have been creating investments which serve their needs above all else for almost a century, and why we shall continue to do so always, regardless of which way the oscillating political winds may blow.

Where do we go from here? Progressive Banking in a New Political Era

NEW YORK, February 2, 2017 — From our vantage point as the leading progressive bank, it feels these days like, as a country, we are not making the progress our great nation is capable of. There is talk of instituting an isolationist foreign policy that will evoke for many memories of the 1930s. Executive actions regarding immigration are sparking protests all over the country in numbers not seen since the 1960s. And a promise to deregulate Wall Street has the potential to create a financial environment eerily similar to that of 2008. As the progressive movement aims to march forward, it seems as if many are eager to return to the failed policies of years past.

These uncertainties, matched with rhetoric urging the distrust of businesses, government and media, have given birth to a large swath of people who no longer have faith in the institutions that have served them for years. The Edelman Trust Barometer reported the largest drop in trust across the board which included financial institutions’ credibility taking a considerable hit. And it’s no wonder why people are wary of banks these days. Recently, we’ve seen banks open fraudulent accounts to improve their numbers; a mishandling of the housing market; and strong lobbying efforts to allow financial institutions to operate in the shadows of regulation.

At Amalgamated Bank, however, we’ve spent the last 94 years shattering that stereotype. We were founded by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, a union that organized tens of thousands of immigrant workers who cut fabric and toiled at sewing machines. The creation of the Amalgamated Bank was predicated on the belief that workers and their families deserve access to affordable banking and that banking wasn’t a system meant only for corporations and wealthy individuals. So when it comes to being different, we know that doing is more important than saying. That’s why we’ve become a certified B Corporation, a distinction we earned after being evaluated under rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency; we’ve joined the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, a network of banking leaders from around the world committed to advancing positive change in the banking sector; and we’ve invested in addressing the issues you care about, like divesting from fossil fuels, creating tobacco and carbon free investment funds and raising our own minimum wage to $15.

In these uncertain times, you not only need reassurance that your money is safe, but you want to know that it is doing the right thing. Amalgamated Bank has grown from a predominately union bank to serve non-profits, foundations, socially responsible businesses and progressive candidates, campaigns and individuals working to change the world. It is because we are cut from the same cloth and believe in these organizations that we are able to take a chance on the startup that cares as much about its mission as it does about its profits; or the non-profit that doesn’t measure success in dollars and cents but by the number of lives it has impacted. We work round the clock hours and go the extra yard for them because these are the people that are making the world a better place in which to live.

With an eye to the future, we continue to roll out new products and initiatives that create more opportunity for our customers while staying true to our progressive values. We’ve developed special lines of credit for homeowners that enable them to finance the installation of solar panels and go green; we launched our Affinity Give-Back Online Savings account so, as customers’ accounts earn interest, Amalgamated Bank donates an amount equal to half of that interest to a participating charitable organization; and, to ensure that police officers, firefighters and teachers can remain in the communities where they work, we’ve established a new investment fund that will provide real affordable workforce housing for middle income earners. At Amalgamated, your money can be just as active as you are.

While we ride out whatever turbulent waters lie ahead, we want you to know that we're here to help you navigate them. Our mission has and always will be to help those who do good, do better.

 

Challenges and Opportunities For Nonprofits in 2017

NEW YORK, January 24, 2017 — Without question, nonprofits are essential to the delivery of healthcare and other critical human services, including education, housing development and the expansion of arts and culture both domestically and internationally. But since the 2016 election, the President-Elect and the 115th Congress have clearly signaled the next four years will be a time of uncertainty for these critical support networks, with a real potential for nonprofit organizations to be left with little or even no federal support.

The Challenges

At Amalgamated Bank, we stand ready to serve as a partner to your organization, helping you meet the demands of your mission without compromising the integrity of your operation, and with a constant and mindful eye on your fiscal outlook.

As a progressive banking institution, it is our privilege and responsibility to support organizations at the front lines of the fight for social justice and economic fairness. That means providing affordable and accessible banking services, and it also means being a trusted advisor who helps to solve challenges through services that help to ensure effective treasury management. Our approach is designed to help you:

• Manage cash flow more efficiently through Amalgamated Online Treasury Management, which integrates centralized account management, checking, cash management services, remote deposit, ACH and wire transfers, security through fraud monitoring and lockboxes; and,

• Maximize your impact through in-house investment management that provide a comprehensive investment platform and customized managed accounts.

The resiliency of the nonprofit sector is unquestionable. According to a report from the Urban Institute, from 2004- 2008, 4.2% of nonprofit organization across the country closed their doors. Meanwhile, from 2008-2012, at the heart of the Great Recession, just 5.1% of nonprofit organizations closed. We know you’ve experienced hard times before, and that the nonprofit sector is strong enough to weather a storm. But the most critical decisions about how and when to spend your funding, and how to get the most impact out of every dollar, can mean the difference between meeting clients’ needs or leaving critical gaps in your programming.

We recognize the challenge of maintaining consistent growth and financial stability between your fundraising and cash flow cycles, and offer critical bridge capital and credit services to help you weather those periods without sacrificing growth or momentum.

Amalgamated Bank’s Work in Action

Since 2013 Amalgamated has grown its relationship with Demos, a public policy organization that strives to help all Americans “have equal say in our democracy and an equal opportunity in our economy”. To accomplish this mission, Demos creates original research, engages in advocacy, files litigation, and utilizes strategic communications.

What began as a treasury management relationship between Amalgamated and Demos eventually evolved to providing multiple credit products, which helped to support the organization’s growth and allowed it to ensure smooth cash flows through fundraising cycles. It has also helped them to make operation changes to expand their operations and ultimately service more citizens. As the organization shifted facilities this year, we helped to backstop their existing security obligations.

Marching Towards Justice: Why Participating In Our Democracy Matters

NEW YORK, January 22, 2017 — Last week, our government once again changed hands, ending a chapter — and starting another — of great uncertainty and tension for America. Since the election, there have been countless protests across the country, with millions of Americans struggling to deal with the new challenges unfolding before them.

As the largest progressive bank in the country, we are recommitting ourselves to helping preserve and uphold our democracy, and to making sure that all Americans — regardless of who they are, who they love, where they worship, their gender or their race — are able to access the American Dream. This is the dream that envisions hard working Americans being able to support their families with a living wage, women being able to access the reproductive health care they need, young families being able to purchase an affordable home and pay for college, and ultimately, all Americans feeling like their voices matter.

Over the past several months, we’ve learned our democracy only works when we show up, when we speak out, and when we exercise the awesome responsibility of our citizenship. This is why we supported the Women’s March that took place in Washington, D.C. and various cities around the country on Saturday. As the president of a bank, I’d be the first to tell you that numbers matter — numbers like the millions of women and progressive allies who turned out on Saturday to support forward-thinking and pro-equality policy for women’s health and reproductive rights, employment equality and more.

During her time as First Lady, Secretary Clinton once said, “women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights.” It was the first time anyone had uttered that phrase — equating the rights of women with human rights. Since then we have watched as women have made incredible strides in the work place, with access to healthcare and more. But there is still much work to be done. While women are in the workforce in large numbers, they still don’t receive equal pay for equal work. States have begun to roll back access to abortion so much so that there is only one clinic is available in some states, and childcare needs are dramatically underserved.

We must turn the momentum of this vital march into a movement that protects and values the lives of all women across the country. Like all Americans that found themselves shaken when they awoke to a new reality on November 9, we are dedicated to using our platform to advance the greater good. We want to provide our customers not only with the best banking services possible, but with a bank that shares their values and allows them to bank for a purpose.

Now more than ever, we all need to put our resources to work for the greater good. There are always actions to be taken to exercise our rights and support initiatives and businesses that share our values. As Senator Booker said just recently, “The arc of the moral universe does not just naturally curve toward justice; we must bend it.”