Executives at Silicon Valley Bank focused on woke initiatives to increase diversity amongst its ranks and invest in startups promoting a ‘healthier planet,’ but failed to spot its glaring problems with investments as interest rates rose.
The now-failed bank had an A rating for its Environmental, Social and Governance policies according to the MSCI index after creating its own initiatives to ‘advance inclusion and opportunity in the innovation economy’ and investing in clean energy solutions over the past few years.
It even announced that it would invest a whopping $5billion by 2027 to support sustainability efforts, while its European offices held a monthlong Pride celebration and promoted ‘safe spaces.’
But for eight months last year, the bank did not have a chief risk operator, as it invested clients’ money in low-interest government bonds and securities.
Then when the Federal Reserve increased interest rates, the value of SVB’s assets fell while customers tried to withdraw their money.
Now, many are slamming the financial institution for focusing too much on woke policies and not enough on its investments.
Silicon Valley Bank has long touted its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts as it built its banking franchise around startups.
It said in its 2022 ESG Report that the bank strives to ‘create a more just, equitable and sustainable world.’
Among the initiatives included in that report are a ‘commitment to provide at least $5billion by 2027 in loans, investments and other financing to support clients’ sustainability business.
‘SVB’s Sustainable Finance Commitment aims to support companies that are working to decarbonize the energy and infrastructure industries and hasten the transition to a sustainable, low-carbon, net zero emissions economy,’ the report states.
It also notes that the bank implemented ‘a diverse candidate slate for US leadership roles’ and introduced its first six Employee Resource Groups for Asian, black, Hispanic, LGBTQ, veteran, military and female employees.
Additionally, it ‘introduced measurable diversity goals for its senior leadership positions to strengthen the hiring and talent development initiatives meant to create paths to professional advancement, especially for women, black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx individuals.’
The report then goes on to note that the bank even created its own program ‘designed to advance inclusion and opportunity in the innovation economy, particularly for women, black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx individuals.’
‘In 2021, SVB continued to expand the program, harnessing its resources, experience and connections to address key barriers that prevent underrepresented groups from succeeding in the innovation sector.’
In an August 2022 statement, then-CEO Greg Becker said: ‘As the financial partner of the innovation economy, we support visionary companies and investors boldly addressing the biggest challenges of our time.
‘Our long history of serving this sector has enabled us to seize opportunities to build a better world, and this report highlights our efforts, progress and commitment to transparency and accountability.’
Craig Robinson, the bank’s head of corporate social responsibility, also said: ‘Using our resources and influence to help build strong communities and contribute to economic, social and environmental progress has always been core to our business.
‘We are proud of the progress we have made in recent years and our annual reporting will hold us accountable to continue to learn and improve.’
But CEO Greg Becker would often be seen riding his bike around his Menlo Park neighborhood, even telling an audience at an investor conference last week that he destressed by cycling.
‘Living in Northern California and being on the peninsula, that’s just — I think the best bike-riding cycling in the world, period.’
And by the time the bank collapsed on Friday, SVB’s board included ‘1 black,’ ‘1 LGBTQ+’ member and ‘2 veterans.’
Among those members were Phil Cox, who sits on the governing board for NextGen Cyber Talent, a nonprofit that ‘provides a platform to increase diversity and inclusion in [the] cybersecurity sector,’ according to his online profile.
And Kate Mitchell, who cofounded the National Venture Capitalist Association initiative, Venture Forward which ‘focuses on advancing opportunities for women and underrepresented minorities in [the] venture ecosystem.’
Mitchell was awarded in 2021 with the National Venture Capitalist Association American Spirit Award, for her ‘service to community centered around equity and diversity.’
Mary J Miller, a former under secretary of Domestic Finance for the US Department of Treasury who ran in the 2020 Baltimore mayoral race as a Democrat, also served on the board.
Meanwhile, the chief risk officer for the bank in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, organized a host of LGBTQ initiatives, including a month-long Pride campaign and implemented ‘safe space’ catch-ups for staff.
In a corporate video published just nine months ago, Jay Ersapah said she ‘could not be prouder’ to work for SVB serving ‘underrepresented entrepreneurs.’
Professional network Outstanding listed Ersapah as a top 100 LGTBQ Future Leader.
‘Jay is a leading figure for the bank’s awareness activities including being a panelist at the SVB’s Global Pride townhall to share her experiences as a lesbian of color, moderating SVB’s EMEA Pride townhall and was instrumental in initiating the organization’s first ever global “safe space catch-up”, supporting employees in sharing their experiences of coming out,’ her bio on the Outstanding website states.
It adds that she is ‘allies’ with gay rights charity Stonewall and had authored numerous articles to promote LGBTQ awareness.
These included ‘Lesbian Visibility Day and Trans Awareness week.’
Separately she was also praised in a Facebook post by the group ‘Diversity Role Models,’ a charity which campaigns against homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in UK schools.
In a corporate document for the bank she said: ‘”You can’t be what you can’t see” has always been a quote that stuck with me.
‘As a queer person of color and a first generation immigrant from a working class background, there were not many role models for me to ‘see’ growing up.
‘I feel privileged to help spread awareness of lived queer experiences, partner with charitable organizations, and above all create a sense of community for our LGBTQ+ employees and allies.’
But while all of that was going on, the bank did not have a chief risk operator between April 2022 and January 2023.
Its former head of risk, Laura Izurieta, who formerly performed a similar role for Capital One, left the bank in April 2022. She wasn’t replaced until January 2023 when the bank hired Kim Olson, formerly of Japanese bank Sumitomo Mitsui.
The bank’s Chief Administrative Officer Joseph Gentile, was a former executive of Lehman Brothers’ Global Investment Bank prior to its collapse in 2008. He worked there as a chief financial officer, but left in 2007 — just one year before the collapse, FOX News reports.
At the time, Lehman was the fourth-largest investment bank in the US, with $649billion in assets and $613billion in liabilities.
By 2021, SVB also started making risky investments.
It counted nearly half of the country’s venture-capital backed technologies and life sciences companies as clients, and owned 3,234 companies — giving the bank the right to buy shares in them.
Its deposits then rose during the COVID pandemic, as more and more people wanted to protect their assets in the bank, with its deposits tripling in just a two-year span to $189billion by 2021, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Executives then decided to invest much of its excess funds in higher-yielding, long term bonds, along with $80billion in 10-year mortgage-backed securities that pay out 1.5percent rather than the short-term Treasury Department securities that pay out only 0.25percent.
That left the bank with a deposit base heavily skewed toward technology firms with huge accounts, over the $250,000 insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
By the end of 2022, a vast majority of the bank’s deposits, $157billion, were held in just over 37,000 accounts that were over the FDIC’s deposit-insurance gap.
It then continued business as usual, borrowing short-term from depositors and lending long-term without any interest-rates — even as Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell warned that higher interest rates were coming.
As customers started to ask for their money back as the economy revamped, SVB had to sell $21million worth of its underwater long0term assets with an average interest rate around 1.8percent.
That meant that the bank lost $1.8billion on sales, leaving executives frantically trying to raise more than $2billion to fill the hole.
‘Management screwed up interest rates, underestimated customer withdrawals, hired the wrong people and failed to sell equity,’ Andy Kessler writes for the Journal.
Many are now attacking the financial institution for paying too much attention to woke politics and not enough attention to the safety of its investments.
In a statement to DailyMail.com, Will Hild, the executive director for Consumers’ Research, said: ‘The bank suffered from a combination of senior officers more focused on identity politics than risk management and investments in unprofitable virtue signaling boondoggles, like reportedly financing 62 percent of all US solar projects.
‘It’s also poetic that SVB would be the first bank to fail from “going woke,” as the general business culture in Silicon Valley itself is notoriously far left and similarly out-of-step with the rest of the country,’ he said. ‘Let this be a warning, not just to other banks, but all of corporate America: Focus on serving your customers, not woke politicians.’
Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy wrote in an op-ed that ‘SVB intentionally decided not to hedge its interest-rate risk.’
‘Either SVB was incompetent or this is a case of moral hazard, taking excessive risk and expecting political favors and bailouts,’ he wrote as he railed against the idea of a bailout for the bank — something Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Sunday is not on the table.
‘Silicon Valley entrepreneurs want to move fast and break things, but we shouldn’t let them break public trust as a long-shot maneuver for a special bailout,’ Ramaswamy said.
‘That isn’t how capitalism works.’