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A streetbanker who excels at building trust

Barbara Jones:
A streetbanker who excels at building trust

Barbara Jones lives by her word.
A reputation for integrity is an asset for any banker, but for Jones, who is reaching out to people traditionally overlooked by financial services, it is a necessity.
As an African-American woman, Jones automatically earns a measure of trust from some of the people she approaches to be customers of the upstate community development group she leads for the Chase Manhattan Bank. Others, wary of the unaccustomed attention of big business, hang back, waiting to see what Jones actually will do.
Low- and moderate-income residents, women- and minority-owned businesses and churches generally are not viewed as crucial customers for financial services. Jones spreads the message that the bank wants to make loans to underserved groups without overlooking Chase’s need to make money in the process.
“I would describe Barbara as a very purposeful and focused individual. You get her attention,” says Wyoma Best, vice president of communications for the Greater Rochester Metro Chamber of Commerce Inc. “She is listening, she is on target. And I think it’s because of that particular quality that she’s been able to get (small) companies to seek her as a resource.”
Jones, 48, got her first banking experience doing clerical work at Bankers Trust while she was a junior at Hunter College in the early 1970s. Different aspects of banking have shaped most of the rest of her career.
Even longer than she has been a banker, Jones has been an activist–a person who has ventured into the community, working to help the poor and homeless improve their lives.
Since 1994, in the position of vice president and upstate manager of community development, Jones often has interwoven her personal mission with her professional one, helping overlooked people gain access to capital while enhancing the reputation and financials of the company that employs her.
Chase’s regional community development group runs four lines of business: real estate; small business; residential mortgages; and a philanthropic, grant-making unit. The first three offer the same types of services as those available to customers in other parts of the bank. And though goals for money-making in the lending lines of business are modest, they are there.
“They’re lending units; they need to be able to generate a profit,” Jones says.
She declines to specify what the targets are for profits in lending. Her resume indicates the group has achieved $30 million in volume in the three units since she started leading it.
“I think the piece I (have been) able to enhance and highlight for the bank has been the business perspective,” Jones says.
Before she became the group’s upstate manager, the focus was centered more on the philanthropic side of the equation. Loan activity was low, she notes. The lending units received an infusion of resources shortly before and after Chase’s merger with Chemical Bank in 1996.
Within community development, Jones sees her primary task as one of education–finding the people who need to know that Chase wants and is able to serve very small businesses, first-time home buyers and churches.
“You don’t need special treatment; you may need information,” she says of her customers. “Once that’s there, you don’t need anything special.”
Jones is received in various ways when she travels, which she does much of the time to meet with potential customers. Some people are welcoming, others are apprehensive. They have only her word that the bank will treat them the way she says.
“My personal integrity is what I’m putting on the line,” she says.
Best says it took an unusual sort of banker to overcome the perception by some small businesses that Chase did not want to work with them.
“She’s kind of thrown herself into the waters,” Best says. “I think it’s beyond just what is connected to the job.”
Chase considers its approach to community development unique. While other banks tend to have a community development department that focuses on meeting requirements of the federal Community Reinvestment Act, or a separate unit that makes grants, Chase unites the various community-related functions under a single umbrella.
“We have a lot of synergy,” says John Leonard, vice president of community relations for the bank, excluding New York City, and Jones’ supervisor in New York City. “We’re able to do a lot of things because we’re all in touch with each other.”
Chase’s regional community development groups are a legacy of predecessor bank Manufacturers’ Hanover Trust. People in Jones’ position are called streetbankers. They establish a rapport with people, neighborhoods and organizations to make sure different parts of their departments and other sections of the bank are in touch with one another.
The streetbanker “is not only in touch with the community but is able to put the community in touch with all our projects,” Leonard says.
Jones is “a very thoughtful person. She’s been at this a long time,” he says. “She knows credit.”
Streetbankers must be generalists and know all the bank’s products. What’s more, they must be willing to spend the vast majority of their time outside their offices.
“I’m astounded at the number of programs and the numbers of contacts they’re able to make,” Leonard says, adding that Jones is “indefatigable.”
Nonetheless, the community development group must stand on its own two feet, financially.
“When all is said and done, we do turn a small profit,” Leonard says. “The Community Development Group operates in total as a business.”
One effort Chase has spearheaded is making loans to churches. Jones has had to work to gain the trust of religious leaders in Rochester in order to help them get loans, coaxing them into disclosing their financials, describing their fund-raising efforts and proving the strength of their congregations. Money loaned by Chase has gone toward building new facilities and rehabilitating sanctuaries.
People or organizations turned down for loans are told the reasons so that in six months, they may have improved their situations enough to qualify on the next try, Jones says.
Jones’ early life taught her how easily people can run into financial trouble. She grew up in Brooklyn, the middle child of five. Her family went through several years of struggling with homelessness and making ends meet on welfare.
Eventually, the family managed to pull together its resources to find and hold onto permanent housing, helped by the some of the children getting jobs and contributing to the family’s income.
After high school, Jones headed to college, the first in her family to do so. She intended to become a teacher, as many women in the late 1960s did, and she studied history and French.
“I’ve always had a love of history, different people, different authors,” she says.
But student teaching one summer gave her a sense of the morass of administration she would have to slog through as a teacher. By her senior year she was taking electives in economics and considering a career in business.
After graduating from Hunter College, Jones found work at an insurance company as a claims adjuster.
After a year and a half in insurance, she learned Chemical Bank was looking for young college graduates. She took a job with the bank and started out doing credit analysis.
Her 15 years at Chemical gave her a wide spectrum of experience in banking. Jones held posts in retail-branch services, branch administration, middle-market lending and capital-markets funding. The common thread, she says, was using her analytical abilities: “Wrestle with information, interpret it, figure out what it means, then act on it.”
As her career progressed, Jones remained in Brooklyn but moved to better neighborhoods. She also kept up her community involvement, begun as a college student, with groups involved in voter registration and anti-war activities, and worked with the YWCA.
She later joined the local chapter of the National Association of Urban Bankers, a networking organization for blacks and Hispanics. Members help one another develop in their careers and also work with schools and community groups to teach young people about the banking world.
But after spending so much time in New York City, Jones began to wonder what life would be like in a smaller city, where things were more “controllable.” She wanted to make changes and see the results.
“As an individual, you can have an impact in what you do, but it takes some time,” Jones says.
She began to hear from friends that Eastman Kodak Co. was recruiting people with banking backgrounds. In 1989, she moved to Rochester, working at Kodak to market imaging products to the banking industry.
In 1993, Kodak eliminated the marketing unit where Jones worked. After more than four years in the city, she needed to decide whether she wanted to stay. Jones realized she had friends and activities in Rochester, and she could easily return to New York City for visits.
When Jones decided to return to banking, Chase was the only institution on her list. She began as a vice president and manager of service quality, stepping up the following year to her position as the local head of community development.
These days it can be hard to single out the purely volunteer work from the purely professional. So much of what Jones does involves being a kind of activist banker.
Her most personal community efforts usually center on the needs of women, young people and ethnic minorities, particularly working to encourage self-sufficiency among people entangled in the welfare system.
Rosalie Genovese sought Jones out to moderate a career panel for girls, presented by the Women’s Foundation of Genesee Valley, after seeing her performance facilitating a panel for women entrepreneurs.
“She’s able to draw out people in the audience and get them to ask questions and get them to network with each other,” says Genovese, a consultant with community organizations. “She takes on a tremendous number of projects, and she’s always willing to consider something new.”
Marion Young, director of the YMCA Minority Achievers Program, pegged Jones as a mover and shaker in the community and tried to get her to serve as chairwoman for her steering committee. Jones declined the role, saying she did not have the time, but she did join the committee.
Even in the nominally smaller position as a board member, Jones has made herself invaluable to the group, participating in meetings and serving as a sounding board for Young. Jones also spent a year as a mentor to an at-risk teenager.
“She was willing to spend some time with this kid and figure out what she wanted to do,” Young recalls.
Jones also made phone calls to raise money for the organization. She clearly is not the type of committee member who joins to get her name on the letterhead, Young says. “This lady is busy. It’s not like she’s sitting, waiting for an opportunity.”
As much time as she finds for others, Jones also sees the value of cultivating her own interests. She has traveled the world, visiting numerous African and European countries.
“It’s a good way to ground yourself,” she says. “It enables you to see the world from a different perspective.”
Jones meets monthly with a group of women who call themselves the Ebony Voices Book Club. Members take turns hosting the gatherings, and she always has the group over to talk about a book by one of her favorite authors, Toni Morrison.
Jones also believes strongly in relieving the stresses of her work with exercise; she does regular weight training and aerobics. Recently, she joined a class at Garth Fagan Dance.
She says her most personal commitment is to Wilson Commencement Park, an organization that tries to resolve problems like the ones Jones faced as a child in a welfare-dependent family.
The non-profit organization has 50 housing units and works with single-parent families to help them get jobs and find day care so the parents can go to work or school. The issues of homelessness Wilson Commencement Park tries to resolve resonate with her.
“It was the one organization that I had ever been aware of that linked all of these things together,” says Jones, the board’s president. She has been a board member for some six years, the longest she has served with a single organization.
“That I do as Barbara Jones,” she says.

2/26/99

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