Chief Legal Officer and Head of Public Affairs
As one of only two women on the executive leadership team at Truist Financial, Ellen Fitzsimmons knows the power of representation.
That recognition, along with last year’s national reckoning around racial injustice, inspired Fitzsimmons, Truist’s chief legal officer and head of public affairs, to lead a companywide effort to increase the proportion of women and minorities in leadership roles from almost 12% to 15% within three years.
“We’ve put a goal there that’s very specific, and we’re very loud about where we are on the path to it and how we’re getting there,” Fitzsimmons said.
Fitzsimmons joined Truist’s predecessor, SunTrust Banks, in 2018 as its general counsel. SunTrust merged in 2019 with BB&T to create the $467.3 billion-asset Truist.
The merger, the largest since the financial crisis, made Fitzsimmons and others at Truist recognize that they had greater power than before to be catalysts for change, she said. In addition to setting a goal of increasing ethnic diversity at Truist, Fitzsimmons also pushed the bank to hold more than 300 listening sessions — or what Truist calls “days of understanding” — to discuss systemic racism and the challenges that people of color face.
“What is more important [than numbers] is just the tens of thousands of hours we’ve spent talking to each other since the murder of George Floyd about racial equity, about a better world, about the role that a bank can play — especially one that’s just come out of a merger with greater ability to affect the outcome,” she said.
Fitzsimmons says it’s important for Truist, which is based in Charlotte, North Carolina, to be transparent in its progress. The bank just completed its first pay equity study, and has pledged to conduct that review annually. And the bank has been “much more aggressive” about sharing its equal employment opportunity data, Fitzsimmons said.
Fitzsimmons is also playing a role in helping close the racial wealth gap. Truist in 2019 committed $60 billion to invest in low- to moderate-income and minority communities and invest in lower-wage borrowers over a three-year period. Those investments helped the bank earn the highest possible overall Community Reinvestment Act rating for its most recent examination period.
The bank also invested $40 million to launch CornerSquare Community Capital in partnership with the NC Rural Center to offer funding to racially and ethnically diverse small-business owners and borrowers in lower-income communities, with a particular focus on Black-owned small businesses.
Truist and Fitzsimmons count the bank’s participation in the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program among its most notable successes during the pandemic.
Truist provided almost $13 billion in the first round of PPP funding to small businesses, which the bank says helped more than 80,000 companies protect close to 3 million jobs.
“One of the things that was really fun was to have responsibility for some of the key elements of the COVID response,” Fitzsimmons said. “Through the legal team we were extremely engaged in supporting our communities and clients with PPP [and] at the same time, massive amounts of philanthropy just to help our communities get back on their feet.”
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