The FDIC, banking, diversity & inclusion, Hispanic business and FDIC executive Nikita Pearson
A conversation with Nikita Pearson, FDIC Deputy to the Chairman for External Affairs and Director of the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion (OMWI)
Every responsible business and organization can benefit from becoming more inclusive and diverse, whether internally with employees or externally with customers. Take, for example, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).
It’s assembled a team consisting of many different voices, experiences and backgrounds to focus, as Nikita Pearson, FDIC Deputy to the Chairman for External Affairs and Director of the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion (OMWI), puts it, “on closing the wealth gap and bringing more people into the financial mainstream.”
No small goal, certainly, but one well worth pursuing. As Pearson explains here, it’s for the betterment of everyone who has ties to the banking industry, which is, well, pretty much everyone, whether individuals or minority- and women-owned businesses, legal referral services and investors.
Latin Biz Today: What is the FDIC?
Nikita Pearson: The FDIC is a federal agency whose mission is to maintain financial stability and public confidence in the U.S. banking system. Most people know we insure deposits (up to at least $250,000 per depositor at each bank). This creates a high level of trust in the banking system, because consumers know their money is safe in an FDIC-insured bank account.
We also resolve failed banks, ensuring that in the unlikely event a bank fails, for any reason, deposit insurance is paid quickly so consumers have access to their insured money. We also examine banks to ensure they are operating responsibly and fairly.
LBT: Where did you grow up?
Pearson: I grew up in Thomson, a small rural town in Georgia. To put it in perspective, the street where my mother lives wasn’t paved until I was in college. To this day, I suspect you can drive to any destination in Thomson within ten minutes and it’s highly likely you’ll see someone you know or you are related to when you get there.
LBT: Was Thompson a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment?
Pearson: Education and football seemed to be the two areas where the residents of Thomson came together, regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic status, et cetera. Everyone attended the same middle and high school, so generally speaking, there was equal access to education. And on Friday nights, it felt like every resident came together for a common goal: to cheer on the local high school football team. However, we didn’t seem to do “life” together much outside of these areas. For example, I don’t recall integrated neighborhoods or churches or regular social gatherings with diverse groups of people.
LBT: How did this background influence you?
Pearson: My background positioned me for a career with purpose at the FDIC. I distinctly remember telling Mrs. Bolden, my favorite school teacher, that The Cosby Show wasn’t realistic. She lovingly told me that not only was it realistic, it was attainable. This fueled my desire to escape poverty and led me to Savannah State University, an HBCU (a Historically Black Colleges and University.)
One day, FDIC recruiters visited my accounting class to talk about the mission of the FDIC and it immediately resonated with me. I thought about my great-grandmother who carried all the money from her Social Security check in her pocket because she grew up during the Great Depression and didn’t trust banks. I thought about watching my mother being denied a loan in a very disrespectful way at one of the banks my family members were responsible for cleaning. I thought about people from my community that continue to be frustrated by their inability to build wealth because they don’t see a financial system that supports their hopes and dreams.
I’ve brought that lived experience with me to work every single day of my career in the hopes of making the U.S. banking system safer, fairer and more inclusive.
LBT: What’s your role within the FDIC?
Pearson: I’ve had the honor of being a public servant at the FDIC for over 24 years, starting as a bank examiner. Currently, I serve as Deputy to the Chairman for External Affairs and Director of the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion (OMWI). As Deputy to the Chairman, I manage the FDIC’s broader engagement mission, including oversight of the FDIC’s Office of Communications and Office of the Ombudsman.
As OMWI Director, I’m responsible for promoting diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility among the FDIC’s 6,000 employees; assessing the diversity policies and practices of approximately 3,200 banks directly supervised by the FDIC; and increasing participation of minority- and women-owned businesses in the FDIC’s operations.
I also serve on several of the FDIC’s executive committees, including as Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Executive Advisory Council, and participate in two White House Initiatives on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity: Hispanics and Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
I believe economic inclusion is one of the most important civil rights issues of our day. And the FDIC is focused on closing the wealth gap and bringing more people into the financial mainstream.
LBT: What are some of your key initiatives at the FDIC regarding inclusivity and diversity?
Pearson: One of our key initiatives—and the one closest to my heart—is to build a more diverse and inclusive banking system. Our 2021-2023 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Plan outlines the tangible steps we’ll take over the next few years to achieve this goal.
One of these recent steps includes establishing a Hispanic recruitment and retention taskforce to address the underrepresentation of this group in the FDIC workforce. We also work to support minority- and women-owned businesses that compete for FDIC contracts; increase participation of minority- and women-owned law firms in legal referral services; and provide minority- and women-owned investors with information about purchasing assets from the FDIC.
LBT: How can people learn more about these FDIC programs?
Pearson: Minority- and women-owned businesses, law firms and investors can contact us at [email protected] to request assistance. Small businesses can call our hotline at 1-855-FDIC-BIZ (1-855-334-2249).