After acquiring black-owned banks in three cities over the past six years, CEO Kevin Cohee, 47, has made OneUnited Bank the first black-owned Internet bank and the largest African-American banking institution in the country, with $570 million in assets. Cohee spoke with TIME's BILL SAPORITO and COCO MASTERS about the next wave in banking, the Covenant with Black America and what it means to carry on a legacy.
How has the Internet transformed OneUnited Bank?
It has turned OneUnited into the future of banking. The MySpace generation's view of technology and willingness to share information are completely different from the people who now possess the money. That's going to change everything. It's a group that is more sophisticated about money.
What is that group's relationship with money?
If you're proficient in technology, you suddenly have access to much more information, which gives you the foundation for making better decisions. So much of money in the financial-services industry has been built upon trickery and controlling information and taking advantage of superior knowledge of financial matters to take advantage of other people.
So banking's been rigged?
It's hopelessly rigged. Providers of services take advantage of the people who know the least--and the people with the least money get taken advantage of the most. The whole concept of wealth is being redefined. People are starting to see wealth more in terms of lifestyle, instead of just money for money's sake. Having said that, savings is an important concept. It is the absolute cornerstone for wealth creation.
That's part of the Covenant with Black America, right?
It comes down to making America better by making black America better--as a group. This is about starting an epidemic of financial literacy and creating a pool of money so that black America has a chance to have economic, social and political parity.
How have OneUnited's acquisitions helped that?
It's old-school unifying of resources. We do old-fashioned business. We produce good-quality products and services. We know how to market them; we know how to underwrite loans. At the same time, we're fulfilling our mission. It's a big deal that we can transact this anywhere in the U.S.
We can guarantee a deposit of up to $25 million with FDIC. Citibank can get you up to $100,000. We're safer; we have higher rates. Compare us to anybody--black, blue, green or purple--let's see how things line up.
How much bigger do you think you need to be to fulfill your mission?
We need to get into the several billions of dollars. The [black banking] sector should be consolidated into one bank. Then you'd have an institution that would really have a serious impact, produce high returns for its shareholders and fundamentally change black America. You talk about the turnaround of a company. We're trying to turn around a whole race.
Why should African Americans turn to you, rather than any other bank on the Web, with their money?