Ever since he was five years old, Sekou Kaalund, the head of Northeast consumer banking at JPMorgan Chase, has wanted to make an impact. Speaking with him, he told us about his childhood ambitions to be a senator, however, after graduating from Duke University, Sekou, through the mentorship of African American executives, took up a role as difference maker in the corporate world.
Originally, Sekou spent eleven years at JPMorgan Chase’s investment bank. In 2018, he took the role of heading Advancing Black Pathways, a program that, as he said, “leveraged business and philanthropic resources to make internal and external impact”. Internally, Sekou and the program set a goal to hire “4000 Black students over 5 years, to deepen relationships with colleges and universities, particularly HBCUs.” For incoming interns, JPMorgan Chase provided a financial health curriculum, and at Howard University specifically, they incorporated financial literacy at the freshman orientation. On top of efforts towards young graduates, Advancing Black Pathways, poured resources into helping small business owners achieve financial health. Sekou believes that these efforts truly “move the needle, as small businesses have always been the growth engine for communities and especially African American communities.”
Of course, it is one thing to put meaningful efforts into these initiatives, but are they able to build trust? Sekou acknowledged that “we can have a whole dialogue about the history of African American distrust in banking”. In response “we wanted to make sure we were proximate in communities.” To build trust “you have to show up in the community and have more active staff”. In the Harlem Community branch, staff has gone out to multiple community groups, “letting them know [they] are open for business and open to serving the community.”
Sekou views these efforts as the key to building trust between the Black community and banks. Members of a distrustful community will likely “look at how the bank’s team is engaging with them as they enter the bank”. And, if they find comfort, they will likely transition to the banking industry, improving their financial health in the process. This development of improved relations between the bank and the African American community further developed itself through Chase Chats, a financial literacy-based conversation deriving from Advancing Black Pathway’s Currency Conversations campaign with Essence.
In our discussion, we learned that Currency Conversations was a nationwide campaign that had a transformative impact on the communities it reached. For Sekou, “it was the first time in my life seeing lines of people going into the bank, just to hear a talk”. This mainly stemmed from community influencers like Luvvie Ajay joining in on the campaign by sharing their own financial stories. As Currency Conversations evolved into Chase Chats in 2020, the firm had succeeded in reaching well over a million people with financial health content, Sekou added
These conversations were especially important for Sekou. “Money topics were taboo in too many communities; if my parents were talking about money that was grown folks’ business and you knew you better move your way out of the room”. But, now, as a parent, he feels that there is a greater comfort in financial discussions with children than there were ever before. With his son, he often has conversations about crypto currency, and his son even works with his own stock portfolio. For perspective, Sekou told us “ I did not buy my first stock until I was outside of grad school”. This is especially important because “when you plant that seed, then people can have that excitement and go on their own financial journey.”
In his present position, Sekou has taken many of his learnings from Advancing Black Pathways and implemented them into his efforts leading the northeast division of JPMorgan Chase. “As a leader, you need to set the tone and be aligned with the community, and as a result we have been at the forefront of the community.” Sekou’s efforts have contributed to JPMorgan Chase’s approach to reaching underserved communities, and along the way he’s helped countless Black Americans get on the journey to financial health and long-term wealth creation.
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