No doubt the heartwarming ads inviting skeptical borrowers to visit Buddy Kemp’s office and hash out the terms of a loan over a cup of java have netted NCNB Texas Bank quite a few new customers. The pitch by the Charlotte, North Carolina, banking giant, which rolled into Dallas last year as a savior in the failed First RepublicBank merger, particularly piqued the interest of a group of South Dallas black businessmen. They turned the tables on Kemp and invited the bank chairman to their neck of the woods for a cup of coffee- and a grand tour.
“We told him we wanted him to come down to South Dallas. We didn’t want to go downtown to his office,” says black businessman Robert Pitre. “We want him right here so he can see for himself where his bank’s money ought to be going.”
Kemp and two other NCNB executives took the tour of South Dallas in January after spending an hour in Pitre’s Harwood Street auto brokerage headquarters talking to South Dallas business leaders. Besides Pitre, the group included Southern Christian Leadership Conference president Peter Johnson; assistant Dallas police chief Don Stafford; Jasper Baccus of Baccus Cleaners; Sam Washington of Robert’s Ready-To-Wear Fashions; transmission service shop owner Aaron Smith; Charles O’Neal, editor of the Dallas Examiner, a South Dallas newsweekly; former Re-publicBank officer Hugh Harrison; and restaurant partners Fred Cartwright and James Reynnels.
Pitre says that he has talked to many white Dallas bankers before, but that Kemp was different. “Mr. Kemp wasn’t faking,” says Pitre, “He was straightforward and honest.” Pitre, echoing suspicions long held in South Dallas, claims that the old RepublicBank deliberately refused to loan money in South Dallas, knowing that poverty breeds crime-and lower property values, “then they would come in and buy it all out,” Robert Pitre says.
Kemp promised the group that his bank will work to make loans more available to them than RepublicBank did in the past. And NCNB senior vice president Mike Dulan says he is also working with the Innercity Community Development Corporation, a brainchild of City Council member Diane Rags-dale that promotes South Dallas, and the city’s Office of Minority Business Opportunity. “We’re trying to get a three-pronged attack to get involved in the low- to moderate-income areas.” says Dulan.
But Kemp reminded the businessmen that NCNB cannot do everything for South Dallas by itself; rejuvenation, he said, will take some help from other banks. And O’Neal remains apprehensive, though he admits he too was impressed with Kemp’s attitude at the meeting. “He’s different, not Dallas-like at all,” says O’Neal. “But then again, you can bet NCNB won’t make any moves to jeopardize its already shaky position in the local banking industry.”
The bank’s good track record with minorities elsewhere certainly had something to do with Kemp’s invitation, allows Pitre. ’’They seem to be good busi-nesspeople. That and the fact that the good ol’ boys who control the rest of Dallas’s banks haven’t gotten their claws into NCNB yet, make us believe we’ll get some real money down here very soon.”
If NCNB comes through for South Dallas minorities-and South Dallas businesspeople come through for NCNB- O’Neal predicts other Dallas banks will line up for a chance at what he calls low-risk minority loan business. “They’re beginning to realize they aren’t going to get much back on their real estate loans and loans they’ve made to foreign countries,” says O’Neal. “Neighborhood finance companies are lending money to minorities at interest rates of above 20 percent, and these finance companies are making a killing in minority neighborhoods because they’re getting paid back every penny.”