Cory Booker and Bob Menendez, U.S. senators from New Jersey, are joining a call for congress to penalize Santander Bank for alleged discriminatory lending practices. The federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency graded Santander as needing to improve disparities in the access it affords lenders from low to moderate-income neighborhoods this week, a step that could limit its ability to grow or merge with another bank.
The Boston-based bank was graded “needs to improve.” Booker and Menendez said in a statement Friday that they want the OCC to take a Committee for Better Banks report that found a pattern of further racial and economic discrimination into account.
“While we are pleased that the OCC’s examination considered recent enforcement actions against the bank for illegal overdraft fees and unlawful repossessions of cars from military servicemembers, it is imperative that the OCC also take into account findings which suggest discriminatory lending practices,” the Senators wrote in a letter to Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry.
“These findings are extremely concerning and raise important questions about Santander’s compliance with the CRA, particularly in light of the bank’s recent growth,” the Senators continued. “… Santander has failed to match its increased mortgage lending and resulting profits with a commitment to the communities in which it operates. With significant disparities in lending to Latinos, African Americans, women, and low-income borrowers, we are concerned that Santander is creating barriers to economic opportunity for those who need it most.”
In a letter obtained by the Boston Business Journal, Santander CEO Scott Powell called the rating “disappointing” but attributed the change to “legacy issues” that hindered the bank’s evaluation.
Jackie Smith, an employee at the Lewisville Center of Santander Consumer USA, said the report points to a need for change within the organization.
“We want our customers to receive the fairest treatment when making one of life’s largest purchases. When workers like me have a voice on the job we can end predatory tactics at big financial institutions, and so we’re proud to stand with our communities and elected representatives to demand Santander end harmful practices and support our rights to advocate for our families and our customers.”
In addition to Menendezand Booker, the letter was signed by Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Bob Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).