Huntington President Seeks Racial Justice Through Banking Role
Inertia is anathema to the work and civic lives of Darrel German.
The president of Huntington National Bank’s Minnesota region arrived in the Twin Cities in November 2020 and he’s rapidly made an impact in banking, in the business community, and in the fight for racial justice.
On Jan. 1, he becomes the new chair of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber. “You can sit on the sidelines or you can jump into the game,” German said in a TCB interview. “I choose to jump into the game and affect as much as possible from my voice to my experiences from other cities and bring some thought-provoking, challenging ideas to think differently about what we can do here.”
German is among the few Black men who are in key financial services roles in the Twin Cities. He launched his banking career in 1988 after earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting. “I chose banking because I was good at numbers,” German said. “My father experienced discrimination when he was buying our first home in a red-lined community in Philadelphia. I think things have a way of playing out. I think my destiny was to be in banking to effect change.”
German was working in Washington, D.C. in a senior leadership role for Wells Fargo when he was hired to become a regional president of TCF Bank in late 2020. Just a few weeks after he arrived in the Twin Cities to take on that role, Huntington and TCF announced a merger. “It was quite a surprise,” German said. He quickly transitioned to his new role with Huntington in a merger deal that was finalized in June 2021.
In an interview, German addressed questions on how he’s building Huntington’s footprint in the Twin Cities market, how he’s forming business and nonprofit alliances on racial equity, and how BIPOC businesses can form and grow in Minnesota’s economy.
Traction on racial equity
One year ago, German convened a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) summit to bring corporate and civic leaders together to discuss why racial disparities persist in Minnesota.
“When I arrived here, a number of things were said to me around the community about a number of organizations who came out and made significant promises to the BIPOC community, especially to the African American community,” he said. “But those promises had not been realized in those areas.”
Following the Huntington DEI summit, he said it was clear that more people and organizations needed to move beyond the problem discussion phase. “We need to go into execution mode,” German said.
He’s excited about major racial equity initiatives and coalitions that are now in execution mode.
An ambitious strategy was launched in May by the new GroundBreak Coalition, which wants to unleash at least $2 billion in flexible dollars over 10 years to address the needs for homeownership, rental housing, commercial development, and BIPOC entrepreneurship.
Tonya Allen, president of the McKnight Foundation, is playing a key leadership role in that initiative. German is among the GroundBreak “regional champions” and Steve Steinour, chairman, president, and CEO of Huntington, is one of the “national champions.”
German is optimistic that real change on racial equity can happen in the Twin Cities. “What I’ve seen here is a number of organizations say they want to do these things. But if we do it together, we can have a more synergistic effect,” he said.
Huntington is providing financial support to an effort to create 10,000 Black-owned businesses in Minnesota.
“Black businesses will hire other Black businesses or will hire other Black employees and really drive wealth to that community because that’s where we can make a significant mark,” German said.
“We felt that we could make the most change around the income gap between Black and white households in the Twin Cities area by supporting small businesses,” said Huntington spokeswoman Mamie Moore-John in a written statement. “We provided the Minnesota Black Chamber a sizable grant this year to help jump-start their five-year, 10,000 Black Businesses Initiative.”
The program is designed to provide access to capital, business education, and technical support for developing Black-owned businesses.
German said Huntington is working to bring more financial support to the 10,000 Black Businesses Initiative, which is being implemented in partnership with the Metropolitan Economic Development Association that’s based in Minneapolis.
“MEDA will facilitate the back office because they have a strong ecosystem relative to vetting businesses,” German said.
Full-service commercial bank
Huntington, which is based in Columbus, Ohio, operates 79 branch banks in Minnesota and employs about 1,350 in the state. Most branches are in the Twin Cities metro area, and a few are located in the regional centers of St. Cloud, Mankato, and Duluth.
When German was hired by TCF to come to the Twin Cities, he had a mandate to build services and grow a customer base of middle market businesses. After the Huntington merger was announced, he also was charged with hiring people who could expand or introduce other banking segments, including wealth management and business banking.
By adding services and expertise, he said, Huntington aspired to become a full-service commercial bank in the Twin Cities that “can compete with the likes of U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo.”
Huntington has been the nation’s largest loan originator, by volume, of Small Business Administration loans for five years in a row.
In recruiting bank talent, German said, he wanted employees who would embrace “what the customers are clamoring for—a bank that’s innovative, thought-provoking, really relationship-focused and will have hand-holding types of conversations.”
Despite the negative effects of inflation on customers and worries over a possible recession in 2023, German said that Huntington’s business has been doing well. “Consumer lending, of course, is going to take a bit of a pause due to the higher interest rate environment, especially as it relates to mortgages,” he said.
Huntington released quarterly financial results on Oct. 21. It reported net income of $594 million for the third quarter of 2022, which was an increase of $217 million over the year ago quarter. At the time, CEO Steinour highlighted “robust loan growth, higher deposit balances, and expanded fee income.”
Goals for 2023
Beyond his leadership positions in banking, German served in the military and recently retired as a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.
He’s now leveraging that experience in his roles at Huntington and the Minneapolis Regional Chamber. In addition to work on racial equity coalitions, he also serves on the boards of the YMCA of the North and the Guthrie Theater.
“Throughout my military career and throughout my professional career, Huntington is the first place where I feel like every day I can bring my total self to work because they allow me to have a voice to speak my truth,” German said. “Others see that and I think that is resonating with a lot of our colleagues.”
That level of comfort is helping German focus on bank and Chamber goals for 2023.
“For me and our leadership team that we have around the table, clearly we want to be the bank of choice, not just on the business side but also on the consumer side,” German said. “We want to be a community-conscious organization that leans in and deals with top-of-mind issues, but more importantly has an impact on a better quality of life for those who’ve been underserved.”
In a nutshell, he wants people and businesses in Minnesota to view Huntington as “the brand that matters.”
At the Chamber he envisions that he will “speak up for others who may not be at the table.”
In assessing the Chamber’s role in the broader Twin Cities region, he says he wants “to ensure that we are change agents across the board, and to be a thought leader relative to this region on how we can affect change on the business side and the community side.”