Bank Facade Given Makeover – Written April 5, 2005

Omni National Bank was founded in 1976 as United National Bank in Fayetteville, NC, is the only bank based in the city, and was the first and only minority owned bank in Cumberland County, having only six locations nationwide.

United National Bank was bought by the Atlanta-based Omni Financial Services, Incorporated, in 2000. Douglas L. Page, vice president of Omni National Bank and branch manager of the High Point location – found in The Five Points, built in 1989, and located at 200 Greensboro Road – declined to comment on the motivations of United National Bank’s black investors creating banks in low-income areas.

Just prior to the purchase, Omni had received a cease and desist order from the U.S. Department of the Treasury based on their lending practices; the bank had been falsifying information on how many of their loans were being paid and the amounts of loans being lent. This was foreshadowed by a 1997 decision by the board of United National Bank to lesson the control individuals of the bank had to lend money. Mr. Page declined to comment on the lending history of United National Bank as he was not with the bank at that time.

Omni is not a strange presence at first look – there are plenty of banks in High Point. However, Omni is the only bank in an obviously poor neighborhood that had no access to invest or loan money properly. When asked about why investors would locate a bank in this specific place, he said, “Most likely a feasibility survey was done and it was found to be a profitable place to put a bank.”

He declined to comment on why other banks would choose to not put a bank on the southeast side of High Point, but did mention that High Point Bank and Trust had recently built a new location in Jamestown just up the street, not mentioning that it was also a few miles down the road and far from the poor Five Points neighborhood that Omni is in.

While Omni National Bank officially maintains that it exists in low income areas for low income families, Mr. Page said that while their High Point location may be located in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, “the majority of our clientele is not from this area.” While he could not disclose information on the bank staff, direct observation of the staff showed that the majority is black.  All refused to comment on any questions asked.

Financial disenfranchisement is apparent in the Five Points, a neighborhood covered in pawn shops and cash advance services; when asked to comment on whether or not these businesses preyed on the areas in which they were located, Mr. Page simply said, “I think they’re just providing a service.” He found no connection between the abundance of those businesses and the lack of banks on the southeast side of High Point. All this, despite Omni Financial publicizing their focus on lending money for inner-city renovations and mortgages and United National Bank traditionally building their banks in low-income areas (of which the Five Points is clearly a part, even moreso in 1989 when the branch was opened).

Before buying a variety of southern banks like United National, Omni was a private company like the popular company Loanx; they admittedly bought banks to be able to make their business public. While no longer a minority-owned bank, it appears minority-operated. However, this is seen as a “non-factor” by the employees of the bank, as is the lack of minority or low-income investors from the area in which they operate. Mr. Page stressed to me that, “This is a business; it is about profit. Without profit a business can’t operate.”

The reality of the bank that claims, “…we can be ‘your kind of bank,’” makes one wonder who “your” is.

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