From the President: Fair Finance Movement Finds Supporters in France

Written by Dory Rand on February 9, 2010 - 4:14pm

While Woodstock Institute is deeply engaged in national and local efforts to implement financial reforms, we also have occasion to explore financial issues with colleagues around the globe. Most recently, I was invited to participate in conversations surrounding community reinvestment issues in France. As a result of a meeting held in Paris on January 30, French bankers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), economists, and other decision makers are considering pursuing laws similar to the United States’ Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) and Community Reinvestment Act (CRA).

At the meeting of about 70 persons, which included representatives of all of the major French banks, Federal Reserve Board Director of Consumer and Community Affairs Sandra Braunstein and I shared information regarding how regulators, bankers and nonprofits use the publicly available data required under HMDA and CRA to evaluate if and how banks are serving the financial needs of lower-wealth persons and communities and small businesses. We emphasized the fact that CRA did not cause global economic crisis, that research shows CRA loans were largely of good quality, and that data drives the movement for economic justice.  I also gave some examples of how NGOs and banks had collaborated on successful CRA-related projects.

Our presentations were followed by several panels of French bankers, economists, NGOs and a representative of the French Bankers Association.  Several speakers and audience members commented on the real crisis in France caused by the lack of responsible credit and financial exclusion (what Americans used to call “redlining”) of poorer communities or territories. While the French expressed some concerns about tracking of racial and ethnic data, most of the bankers and others in attendance agreed that data collection along territorial or geographic lines could find acceptance.

A representative of Citibank who had also worked in the US gave favorable reviews of HMDA and CRA and told the audience that these laws are not overly burdensome to banks. The head of BNP's Private Bank agreed to make public his bank's data on services provided in low-income neighborhoods. The French NGO Secours Catholique announced at the meeting their financial inclusion manifesto and plans to advocate for French legislation patterned after key elements of CRA.

As a result, meeting organizer Kent Hudson said, “French people who wouldn't talk in public about CRA last week now feel that it's safe to do so…. A big new door is opened.”

For more on global economic perspectives, plan on attending the National Community Reinvestment Coalition’s conference March 10-13 and the Global Fair Banking sessions on March 13 in Washington, DC. See details at www.ncrc.org.