AUSTIN, Texas - In an effort to rebuild their tarnished reputations, the nation's biggest banks are touting their charitable contributions and community involvement. On closer inspection, however, they are not so charitable after all, according to a new report.
The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) has examined the contributions of four megabanks over five years. Report author Sean Dobson says the banks include their employees' volunteer hours and making low-interest loans to for-profit companies when tallying their charitable giving, but overall, they spend only a fraction of 1 percent of their total revenue on philanthropy.
"They brag a lot about their charitable donations, and they brag loudest and most often whenever they're in Washington, D.C., lobbying lawmakers to try to water down financial reforms that will safeguard the public against fraud, abuse and another financial collapse."
The institutions in the report are Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo. Dobson says his group does not want Congress to be, in his words, "hoodwinked" by the megabanks' claims of generosity, as lawmakers work on more stringent banking regulations.
Also in the report is an evaluation of how the banks fared in meeting the NCRP minimum benchmarks for responsible giving. These include using at least half of their charitable dollars to benefit vulnerable populations instead of, for instance, Ivy League schools; and giving nonprofits more flexible, multi-year grants instead of one-time amounts. None of the four banks met those standards, says Dobson.
"In fact, these four megabanks, their philanthropy compared to other big financial institutions, is actually mediocre in terms of its quantity and its quality. It also lacks transparency - much of it cannot be verified."
He explains a bank typically gives in two ways: through a separate charitable foundation, where the records are public and can be tracked, and from their own corporate treasury, which is private information and cannot be confirmed - even if the company is publicly traded.
The report, "Take and Give," is available at ncrp.org.