tampabay.com

Bank to aid underserved areas

Bank of America commits an undetermined amount that it says will exceed one by Wachovia for $21-billion.

By TAMARA EL-KHOURY
Published February 25, 2005


Al Pina's "Wachovia Yes, Bank of America NO" campaign came to an end Thursday after Bank of America's leadership agreed to commit an undetermined amount of investment to Florida's underserved areas.

The PR campaign was designed to encourage families and businesses to bank with Wachovia, which in August committed $21-billion over five years to Florida community banking investments.

Pina, chairman of the Tampa-based Florida Minority Community Reinvestment Coalition, has been pressuring Bank of America, the biggest bank in the state, to make a similar commitment.

"We want the chairman of the board to sit down at one table with 15 to 20 minority leaders from across the state and talk about the possibility of an investment," Pina had said.

After meeting with Bank of America representatives Wednesday, Pina called off the hunger strike he had planned for next Wednesday to bring attention to the issue. Pina said Bank of America agreed to exceed Wachovia's $21-billion and will take 90 days to map out the details.

"I just smiled and said, "Thank you, this is a wonderful day for Florida,' " Pina said.

Pina left the meeting with a letter signed by Douglas Woodruff, Bank of America's community development executive, and Florida president G. Timothy Laney that doesn't specify amounts.

"Per our discussion today, I'd like to affirm that Bank of America is developing a Florida strategic business plan that will focus on delivering financial products and services to low- and moderate-income consumers, small businesses and ethnic markets across the state," the letter read.

Wachovia, the state's No. 2 bank, has been inching toward Bank of America's top spot.

Pina had gone in to the meeting expecting to be met halfway and had no expectations of a firm commitment.

Despite promises by the state's two leading banks to invest in Florida's underserved and minority communities, Pina says he won't rest.

"When this completes in 90 days, we're putting AmSouth and SunTrust on notice," Pina said.

Tamara El-Khoury can be reached at 727 893-8318 or tel-khoury@sptimes.com