Bruised by election-year rhetoric and still suffering the fallout on its reputation from the 2008 crisis, Wall Street is going the extra mile to win hearts and minds on Main Street. The sector is plowing hundreds of millions of dollars into a wide gamut of community projects like youth employment and renewable energy.
Known more for their sizable financial bets than charitable giving, many big banks have supported the arts, education and community development through foundations for years. However, the last several appear to be busier than usual for the foundation arms of major financial institutions. Marquee names like Citigroup, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase are plowing money into a broad range of nonprofit ventures that signal a new phase in corporate social responsibility.
One of the most active has been JPMorgan. The bank recently committed $125 million in an attempt to help revitalize low-income neighborhoods around the country. Called PRO Neighbors, the investment comes two years after the bank committed $100 million to help Detroit recover from bankruptcy, and just months after it pledged $75 million to tackle youth unemployment.
The PRO initiative is meant to "provide local leaders with the tools and flexible capital to bring healthy food, education facilities, affordable housing and small businesses to vulnerable communities," Janis Bowlder, JPMorgan's head of community development for global philanthropy, told CNBC in an interview.
Neighborhood organizations will work together to compete for grant money that will help "expand and pool resources for helping underserved neighborhoods," Bowlder explained. "From Colorado to Texas, we know this approach works because it's encouraging others to invest and help spur economic mobility in neighborhoods that haven't been invested in for a significant period of time."