ACCESS: The ‘Secret Sauce’ To Ally Bank’s New Supplier Diversity Program
Two new supplier outreach programs aimed at creatively engaging diverse suppliers.
The diverse supplier world is filled with black holes—corporate websites where supplier registration forms disappear, seemingly endless selection processes, and RFPs that drag vendors into downward-spiraling competitions driven by cost.
At Ally Bank, T.J. Lewis is working to change that—from scratch.
Detroit-based Ally, a top 20 U.S. bank, recruited Lewis in January 2020 to launch its first formal supplier diversity program. He joined the digital bank as director of supplier diversity after a 25-year career that included 14 years at Bank of America, where he held supplier development, corporate banking and underwriting positions, and four years leading a minority-owned risk management firm.
“My goal isn’t to replicate what other banks are doing because we have a different business model,” says Lewis. (No branches, no ATMs, no ATM vendors, as one example.)
“What we’re looking for are technology-based companies, app developers, and banking and IT companies.”
In high demand are suppliers that can support Ally’s digital consumer, commercial and corporate banking, brokerage, credit card, mortgage lending, automotive finance and insurance operations. Filling such a specialized need requires two-way access, what Lewis calls the “secret sauce.” It’s why, in 2021, Ally is introducing two supplier outreach programs.
In January, a one-day virtual symposium brought together 50 diverse suppliers with Ally executives, including CEO Jeffrey Brown; Chief Financial Officer Jenn LaClair; David DeBrunner, chief accounting officer; and John Sack, chief procurement officer. It included executive panels, matchmaking meetings and elevator-pitch sessions. One of its objectives, said Lewis, is to avoid a drawn-out courtship process. “We may not have immediate opportunities for everyone, but they’ll get an honest shot, with honest feedback.”
In April, the first Supplier Spotlight, also virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic, will offer suppliers an insider’s view of Ally business operations, strategy and purchasing plans. Twelve suppliers will be invited to present their capabilities and qualifications at each of the three quarterly meetings scheduled for 2021.
Access applies internally as much as it does externally.
“The work that’s been done in terms of diversity and inclusion, corporate citizenship and employee engagement provided the fertile soil to establish our program,” explains Lewis. “I didn’t have to spend a lot of time explaining the benefits of supplier diversity.” There are good reasons why.
More than half of Ally’s executive leadership team is diverse, with women comprising more than one-quarter of its ranks. Women and nonwhite ethnicities represent more than 50% and 35% of its workforce, respectively. The company’s D&I and corporate social responsibility efforts, led by Reggie Willis, chief diversity officer, and Natalie Brown, corporate citizenship director, played an outsized role in providing the access Lewis needed to launch his program. Of particular importance were Ally’s D&I champions.
“Our D&I champions sit within each business unit and serve as advisors to the broader D&I team and align our D&I and business strategies,” says Willis, who chairs Ally’s Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Council. Their most important job is ensuring that Ally’s diverse suppliers have a chance to compete for additional projects and can access company decision-makers. D&I champions represent each business unit/function touching 30 Ally locations having 50 or more employees, which makes it easier, for example, to work with Disability:IN on employee and supplier recruitment and with LGBTQ chambers of commerce, like those in Charolotte, North Carolina, and Detroit, Michigan, on supplier outreach.
Complementing Willis’ efforts are those of cross-functional teams known collectively as “the squad.” Led by Corporate Citizenship, they represent D&I, supplier diversity, consumer marketing, branding, public relations and other key units. The teams help ensure that the bank’s economic mobility programs focusing on financial literacy, affordable housing, and digital job training and workforce development target local community needs. (In 2020, those programs invested $4.3 million in nearly 100 local organizations.) Team members also support the bank’s partnerships with local National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) and Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) offices, and the Atlanta, Georgia-based Greater Women’s Business Council, among others.
“All this leads to supporting Black and brown businesses in places like Minneapolis and Little Rock where we’ve focused on COVID-19 relief specifically for businesses impacted by social unrest,” explains Brown. “We also recognize the importance of investing in nonprofits that are helping small business owners, or those who want to become entrepreneurs, potentially develop into long-term suppliers.”
Ally’s signature Moguls in the Making scholarship program is one of those initiatives. The 2-year-old business pitch competition, presented jointly with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and Sean Anderson Foundation, promotes opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs from publicly supported historically Black colleges and universities.
Lewis acknowledged that this first-year agenda is ambitious but was thrilled with the momentum it’s achieved so far. “We’ve made great strides rallying support among our internal and external partners. It’s our mission to creatively engage with diverse suppliers and events like our symposium and quarterly spotlights are just the beginning.”