August is African American Business month and The Houston Sun went to the only financial institution established for African Americans for an interview. Unity National Bank has made a name for itself as not only being the only African American owned bank in Texas but for being dedicated to serving the community for the last 48 years.
Existing in one form or another since 1963 when it received its charter as Riverside National Bank, the institution was started by a group of Houston’s elite professions of African descent who wanted something in their own community.
“They wanted to give access to capitol to small businesses and personal loans to those who qualified and otherwise wouldn’t have access to funds,” said Executive Vice President and Chief Lending Officer John Scroggins.
The 1980s came along and Riverside National Bank went into recievership, was sold to a group of white businessmen and became Peoples Bank for a brief period. The African American community was in shock and worked to regain ownership of the bank. In 1989 was sold again to another group of African American businessmen, headed by Limas Jefferson. This is when Riverside National Bank would change to the now current Unity National Bank.
Unity National Bank would hit its new milestone in 2005 when businessman Kase Lawal would become majority shareholder of the bank. With the change in ownership came a new management team. The new chairman would become former mayor of Houston Lee P. Brown and Lawal became the vice chairman. Scroggins would be recruited from a high paying career at Wells Fargo to his position.
The reason Scroggins moved from an almost trillion dollar bank to a small community bank was simply to make a difference.
“It’s because I knew I could make a difference at Unity, more than what I could make at Wells Fargo,” said Scroggins. “I could really see the difference it would make in advising small businesses; especially African American, Latino, and woman owned businesses.”
When Scroggins came to Unity National Bank in January of 2006, the total assets of the bank were about $50 million. Now, the total assets stand at around $70 million along with an overly strong balance sheet. Scoggins also helped push for online banking, bill pay, credit card services, mortgage banking and merchant card services.
Along with City National Bank in New Jersey, Unity National Bank is the only black owned National Charter banks in America. With that ability, Unity National Bank has the ability to bank outside of the state of Texas and join the ranks of bigger banks like Chase and Bank of America which will help the bank accomplish its goal of being the biggest African American owned bank in the nation. Currently outside of the location of Blodgett Street, there’s a location in Missouri City area and one in the Pavilion shopping center in downtown Houston.
Unity National Bank serves the community through niche banking. This means that because they cannot compete with bigger banks due to size and numbers, the bank lends mainly to local businesses such as churches (along with other religious organizations), locally owned restaurants, and small government entities. In an effort to grow, the bank also has not ruled out acquisitions of other banks to coincide with its organic growth throughout the community said Scroggins.
According to Scroggins, local community businesses that have thrived while banking through Unity National Bank include Holman Street Baptist Church, Frenchy’s Chicken, Acute Machines, and Womack Development Company.