Bank of America Needs To Come Clean About 'De-Banking' Practices
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Every relationship is built on trust. Americans’ relationship with their banks is no different.

Unfortunately, everyday Americans’ trust in the banking system has plummeted to a historic low. A recent AP poll noted that “only 10% of adults have a great deal of faith in the nation’s banks and financial institutions.”

Bank of America is a case study in how to build distrust, especially when it comes to discriminatory de-banking.

Bank of America held its annual shareholder meeting last month. Its proxy statement included a shareholder resolution calling for transparency on the bank’s startling track record of viewpoint-based de-banking.  

De-banking stories typically follow the same general pattern, and Bank of America’s cancellations are no exception. First, a customer receives notification that their account is being canceled by the bank for vague reasons, like “reputational risk.” Second, the bank stonewalls the customer indefinitely, refusing to give a concrete reason for the account closure. Third and finally, if the media gets involved, the bank will break its own promise of customer confidentiality and concoct a flimsy excuse to save face in the public square.

That’s exactly how Bank of America treated Indigenous Advance Ministries and its founder Steve Happ. A charity that serves poor populations in Uganda—feeding widows and orphans and saving the vulnerable from sex trafficking—the bank abruptly de-banked Indigenous Advance in 2023 along with a Memphis church that occasionally supports it and a separate LLC that employs Ugandan men and women to do an honest day’s work.

Why had they been de-banked? No one at Bank of America would tell the ministry. But when the U.K.’s Daily Mail reached out for comment several months later, Bank of America’s PR team leaped into action. The bank claimed that it canceled all three entities—including the ministry and the church—because part of the LLC’s work includes reminding the people they serve to pay their bills on time. This is hardly “debt collection” as any reasonable person understands the term, but the bank latched onto this as the raison d'être of the cancellations.

A year later, it remains a mystery why Bank of America canceled Indigenous Advance as a customer. But even during that time, more victims of Bank of America’s de-banking regime have come forward, including Timothy Two Project International and constitutional scholar John Eastman—both de-banked under similar circumstances by the nation’s second-largest bank.

The bank’s lack of transparency about cancellations that suspiciously look like they are based on viewpoint is why shareholders sought a report assessing whether the bank’s policies and practices pose a risk of politicized de-banking. 

In the run-up to this week’s shareholder meeting, Bank of America reached out to the shareholder to discuss the proposal. I participated in that meeting.

During the meeting, we discussed Indigenous Advance and Bank of America said it closed the ministry’s account because it engages in debt collection. I categorically denied this. I also questioned the after-the-fact nature of this rationale and made clear that, even if it was to be believed, it had no bearing on the closure of Indigenous Advance Ministries’ and the church’s accounts. Bank officials thanked us for the clarification, said they were not aware of these facts, and promised to discuss these new revelations internally and get back to us.

We heard nothing.

Despite the bank going dark, I was still surprised and disappointed when Bank of America officials repeated the “debt collection” canard as the reason it closed Indigenous Advance’s account at the annual meeting. The bank knows this rationale does not apply to the ministry or the church. In fact, they know it is factually untrue. Yet bank officials said it anyway, misleading all its shareholders and sullying Indigenous Advance’s good name in a sad attempt to save face and avoid accountability.

As the saying goes, if you have nothing to fear you have nothing to hide. Unfortunately, Bank of America’s actions suggest it has a lot to fear and a lot to hide. Hopefully, its shareholders will keep the pressure on until it comes clean about its de-banking practices and makes policy changes that decrease de-banking risks and build back public trust.

Jeremy Tedesco is senior counsel, senior vice president of corporate engagement for Alliance Defending Freedom (@ADFLegal).

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