DVI Spotlight: Comerica’s Dual ERG Strategy

Comerica Bank is in the business of taking in deposits, making loans to individuals and businesses and maintaining investments that provide financial value and safety for its customers.

But to Linda Forte, the bank’s senior vice president of business affairs and chief diversity officer, Comerica is really in the sustainable relationship business. Every deposit, transaction, investment and financial service is built on trust and personal connection.

As the social and demographic makeup of U.S. consumers — and Comerica’s prospective customers — evolves, diversity and inclusion will remain a significant part of the bank’s strategy.

Forte called it a pillar, and Comerica has developed a multi-pronged diversity and inclusion strategy. On one hand, the bank has initiatives in place to support its diverse workforce’s daily job performance. On the other, it has external-facing programs working to tap diversity as a driver for business generation — more deposits, loans, investments, etc.

Both are especially important to the bank, given its primary centers of business. The company is headquartered in Dallas, and has a large branch presence in states such as California, Arizona and Florida. All are areas where evolving demographic changes are apparent.

Forte said each strategic initiative also has a host of educational elements, marketing and promotional outreach, and involvement with local community organizations and associations where the bank does business. These elements enable the company to enhance its brand as well as a sense of corporate social responsibility.

It all starts with Comerica’s Executive Diversity Council, which sets the bank’s diversity strategy. The council is chaired by Comerica’s CEO, Ralph W. Babb Jr., and is composed of a number of his direct reports.

Forte said having the company’s top executive chair the committee shows its commitment to diversity and inclusion as a strategic driver. Each of Comerica’s diversity initiatives has an annual budget and financial goals to meet. Results are tracked, and sales are associated with each diversity and inclusion program.

In the midst of strategies designed to generate business are Comerica’s 17 Market Segmentation Initiative (MSI) teams. These teams are different from its more traditional employee resource networks. Forte said MSI teams are made up of employees chosen by business unit leaders based on their performance, not volunteers. They also act as an external resource for business generation, not solely as an internal employee resource.

The teams, which have between 15 and 18 members, are broken into different segments representing diverse populations such as Hispanic, African-American, Asian/Indian, Asian/Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, Women and LGBT. Their purpose “is to attract and strengthen customer relationships within diverse markets by demonstrating to these diverse customers that we understand them and that we understand their financial needs.”

Each team puts together an annual plan for how to increase Comerica’s visibility and image in diverse communities. The plan defines clear business development goals and identifies how the group will generate revenue for the bank with products such as deposits, investments and loans.

Forte said MSI teams may employ a number of different methods to carry out this mission, including community outreach to a given market segment through event sponsorships; relationship-building programs with centers of market influence and community leaders; involvement with chambers of commerce and other community organizations; and by hosting educational seminars and workshops within a given community.

The company has a tracking system used anytime an employee books new business. If, for instance, the new business was a result of a diversity initiative — say, an event put on by the Hispanic MSI team in a local community — it is noted in the system.

The strategy is paying off. In fiscal year 2011, MSI teams tracked more than $411 million in sales associated with their initiatives. Forte said that figure is likely on the conservative side, as some new depositors might open an account without checking the box indicating what led them to become customers.

In addition to its MSI and employee resource teams, Comerica also has a strategy in place to include diversity in its performance management process. This starts with individual performance plans. Forte said every employee is encouraged to include some element of diversity and inclusion within a performance plan. The bank’s executives, however, are required to have elements of diversity in their performance plans.

This is mainly accomplished through a diversity scorecard, which outlines each division’s diversity goals and links them to individual contributor or manager performance. The four components of the diversity scorecard are revenue, human capital, improved productivity/decision-making/problem-solving and supplier diversity. Scorecards are reviewed annually.

Forte said the company encourages that roughly 5 percent of employees’ performance plans focus on diversity and inclusion. “If you’re a chair or co-chair of a [diversity] initiative or an ERG or a local diversity roundtable,” Forte said, “automatically that’s about a 10 percent weight in your performance plan.”