Banking While Black: Former NFL Player and Bank Employee Expose Racism At JPMorgan

Two Black men in Arizona have spoken out about “banking while Black” after they say they faced racial discrimination by JPMorgan Chase.

Former NFL player Jimmy Kennedy and his former financial adviser Ricardo Peters, allege they were discriminated against, ignored and, in Peters’ case, pushed out by the banking institution.

The two opened up about their experiences with JPMorgan branches in Phoenix, Arizona in an exclusive interview with The New York Times, to which they provided recorded conversations as evidence. Peters highlighted how the financial institution discriminates against Black employees, by denying them promotions, isolating them from colleagues or transferring them branches in less wealthy neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, Kennedy revealed that even Super Bowl winning athletes can face racial discrimination from the very institutions that are supposed to protect their assets. In an interview with The North Star, Kennedy, who played nine seasons in the NFL and won a Super Bowl as member of the 2011 Giants, described the bank’s repeated failures to properly invest, protect and grow the $13M he had earned as an NFL player.

Mismanaged Money and Poor Customer Service

Kennedy, who graduated from Penn State, is no fool when it comes to protecting his money, he says.

“I think people forget that we’re not just football players, that we actually have educations,” the former New York Giant toldThe North Star. Kennedy made sure to become financially literate and to educate himself in order to best invest his dollars. Over his playing career and into retirement, he has worked with several financial advisors, and that JPMorgan was no different.

Kennedy told The New York Times that when he tried to become a “private client” at JPMorgan Chase, which would give him better loan deals, travel benefits and exclusive event invitations, the bank failed to give him that elite designation. And after Peters, who brought him into the bank, was fired, he was assigned a financial adviser Kennedy believed to be inexperienced. Kennedy told the newspaper that he believed his new financial adviser, Charles Belton, was only assigned to him because he was also Black.

When he went to his local JPMorgan branch in Arizona to find out why he was getting the runaround, Belton admitted to him that his race was the key factor.

“You’re bigger than the average person, period. And you’re also an African American,” Belton told Kennedy in a conversation recorded by the former athlete. “We’re in Arizona. I don’t have to tell you about what the demographics are in Arizona. They don’t see people like you a lot.”

Kennedy told The North Star that he initially recorded his conversations with Belton because he knew that Belton was lying to him about the services Chase could provide him. He never thought Belton would admit his race played a role in the unequal service he was receiving.

JPMorgan also failed to protect nearly $100,000 of Kennedy’s money, dollars that were meant for an annuity. The money instead ended up in a holding account.

The bank did not immediately respond to The North Star’s request for comment.

Kennedy told The North Star that he pulled a majority of his money out of JPMorgan Chase, but still has a couple of accounts open with the bank. He also filed a grievance with Arizona’s attorney general, who told Kennedy that they found no evidence that JPMorgan had discriminated against him.

In June, JPMorgan sent Kennedy a letter in a bid to stop his complaints against the bank. “You stated that Mr. Belton informed you that our firm was prejudiced against you and intimidated by you because of your race,” the bank’s letter read. “We found no evidence to substantiate your allegations.”

Kennedy toldThe North Star that he invested with JPMorgan because it was a respected financial institution. But he is now considering pursuing legal action against the bank.

Jimmy Kennedy said JPMorgan Chase gave him the runaround when it came to giving him a "private client" status despite moving $800,000 into the bank. (Courtesy of Jimmy Kennedy)

Peters Is Edged Out

In his interview with The Times, Peters described the repeated attempts by his Chase branch to place obstacles in his career. Peters rose the ranks at JPMorgan from a salesman in the bank’s credit cards division to a financial advisor position in Phoenix in 2016.

Despite numerous performance awards, Peters was denied a lucrative promotion and was instead moved out of his central office with other financial advisors to a windowless room in the back of his branch, The New York Times reported. It went downhill from there.

First he was accused of taking customers’ files home at night. Then he was blocked by his boss, Frank Venniro, from providing services to a prospective client who had received a $372,000 in a wrongful death settlement following her son’s death. Venniro told Peters that the woman, who was Black, was not a worthwhile client because she came from Section 8 housing, the federal program that gives vouchers to help with housing costs, and she would quickly spend all her money.

Peters argued that was why the potential customer needed the guidance of a financial adviser, but his protests fell on deaf ears.

“This is not money she respects,” Venniro responded to Peters according to The Times. “She didn’t earn it.”

According to The Times, Venniro was “put on leave” after the newspapers’ inquiry into his behaviour, and has since resigned.

Peters was later transferred from a Sun City West branch to a branch in a less wealthy neighborhood. There he met Kennedy, who would go on to be his client. But their working relationship would not last long.

In August, Peters filed a formal complaint against the bank because he felt he was being targeted because of his race. On October 5, he was fired. According toThe Times, Peters has filed a discrimination claim with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the civil rights division of the Arizona attorney general’s office. JPMorgan denied the claims of racial discrimination.

The Reality of “Banking While Black”

Unfortunately, cases like Kennedy and Peters are common throughout the U.S. In September, a Georgia doctor was racially profiled by a bank employee and had police called on him when he attempted to open a new bank account with his wife.

Dr. Anthony Onyebula, who is Black, was at the United Community Bank on Eagles Landing Parkway in Stockbridge, Georgia when a bank teller called 911 and claimed he appeared to be “up to no good.” The bank employee told the 911 dispatcher that they had ordered employees to lock the front door of the bank while Onyebula spoke on the phone with his wife outside.

The doctor and his wife were later confronted by two police officers, who told him that he appeared suspicious and that bank employees thought he wanted to rob the bank. “I think they need training on how to deal with people,” Onyebula told WSB-TV. “You cannot judge someone from the outside.”

Discrimination is also prevalent when it comes to lending rates, a study by the National Bureau of Economics found in June.

The study revealed that Black and Latinx people were charged 7.9 basis points (0.079 percentage points) more than whites to take out mortgages and 3.6 basis points more when refinancing their mortgages. Researchers noted that amounted to $765 million in added interest charges each year. The report also found that algorithmic fintech lending was less discriminatory.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia, Australia and the Americas.