Exclusionary policies and strategies, from limited access to home mortgages and geographic barriers to physical bank branches, have hindered black economic well-being.  COVID-19 offers a meaningful opportunity to counter these practices. By 2043, the majority of Americans will be people of colour. As we drift across the blood-dimmed tide that destroyed lives and livelihoods, we witness so many clinging to the debris that is their life. Alas, the coronavirus has made us accept that we were never in the same boat.

The sun is shining – but August 2020 will be shadowy. The poor are sinking into a vortex of joblessness. A temporary stop on landlords using the courts and bailiffs to evict the poor has helped. The UK government has decided on a stamp duty break until April 2021 for those purchasing property valued up to £500,000. This will cost an estimated £3.8 billion in loss of revenue. But that won’t help those who are gazing into a chasm of homelessness. The question is – who is this going to help? Not the millions who are being asked to take a wage cut, or are being made redundant, or those who were struggling with rent and debt repayment before Covid-19.

The daily press briefings do not include the social economy – how many were made redundant, how many have signed on to Universal Credit, how many have been evicted, how many are living in housing poverty, how many used a food bank today? There is no briefing on measures to solve the pandemic of poverty and stolen hope.

There is a different set of numbers that count redundancies and job cuts and businesses being unable to reopen. And behind every number there is a life. These numbers are not announced during the daily press briefings. The poor who were struggling to live before lockdown are now in situations for which the government has offered no lifelines or life rafts. A privatized system of home ownership allows the market to decide who can have a roof over their head. The various ‘help to buy’ schemes ‘help’ only those who already had the resources to buy a property.

In the US, nearly half of black households are unbanked or underbanked—a disparity that, over the course of a financial lifetime, can cost nearly $40,000 in fees. Improving financial inclusion would help address histories of invisibility and better equip black families for what is about to unfold. In 1921, black-owned businesses in Tulsa mushroomed into a Black Wall Street. White riots destroyed it. By 1934, the passage of the National Housing Act systematically excluded black home owners from mortgage lending. More than 98% of $120 billion in federal backed mortgages went to white home owners.

Noticing these trends, E.M. Petioni in Trinidad summoned a cadre of black professionals to form an indigenous bank to service coloured agriculturalists and shop keepers. The Colonial Bank and the Royal Bank accepted nothing less than 24 cents or one shilling to open an account. This haughty sum barricaded the blacks. Petioni decided that depositors could open accounts at the new bank with just 2 cents. In solid Laventille Blue Limestone, the ‘Penny Bank’ stands unoccupied on the corner of Duke and Charlotte Streets. Likewise, the old Workers Bank on the corner of Duncan Street and Independence Square sits in silent vigil over the black urban poor who trudge pass its stoic shut doors daily.

On May 20, 1914 Petioni incorporated the Trinidad Corporative Bank and registered the business under the Companies Ordinance of 1913. It was not an authentic Bank under the prevailing laws that govern such institutions but it still stands today. Arnold Waterman, was the first president of the Bank. In 2020, FCB published a call for proposals to repurpose the old Laventille Blue Limestone Penny Bank building. Foundations are always a good place to begin again. The old penny bank pioneered the provision of low cost housing in Trinidad. In 1929, it acquired Stanley’s Place in Belmont and constructed thirty ‘Workers Homes.’ The houses and the land were eventually sold to the occupants on a rental-mortgage basis. ‘Bank Hill’ was a follow up project on St. Francois Valley Road. The tenants were then assisted to own their own houses by mortgage and/or Bills of Sale. Bank Hill had 55 houses and a street named Waterman Road. The bank acquired the 214 acre Wallenvale Estate in Sangre Grande. This housing project mirrored the ‘Bank Hill’ prototype.

Perhaps in a post-COVID-19 context, the old Penny Bank can become a location for an inner-city Food Bank that can provide short-term support for people whose needs have not yet been addressed by official state welfare provision. Alternatively, the old Penny Bank can become a lens for microcredit and inclusive financial services. Many institutions are supporting greater financial inclusion in marginalized communities including: ‘Prosperity Now’, ‘Accion,’ ‘JPMorgan Chase’s Financial Solutions Lab,’ ‘Advancing Black Pathways’ and the ‘World Bank Financial Inclusion Global Initiative.’ FCB can lead the way and build an enduring legacy that is aligned with consumer demand. After all, the primary purpose of any business is to make the world a better place.