Chappell, Emma C. 1941–
Emma C. Chappell 1941–
Bank founder and president
When the United Bank of Philadelphia opened its doors in 1992, Emma Chappell became the first black woman to establish a bank since Maggie Lena Walker founded Richmond’s St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in 1903. By virtue of several years of what Black Enterprise magazine called “financial missionary work,” she had accomplished a remarkable feat: she raised seed money for a financial institution largely from the pockets of individual small investors. The bank grew rapidly over its first five years of existence, attracting notice from Philadelphia’s business community and from several national financial publications. In an era when financial institutions tended to focus above all on the bottom line, Emma Chappell steered United Bank toward activities that would improve the quality of life in Philadelphia’s African American community and in other minority communities.
Chappell was born Emma Carolyn Bayton on February 18, 1941 in Philadelphia. Raised by her father after her mother’s death when she was 14, Emma Bayton attended West Philadelphia High School. She was a member of Zion Baptist Church, whose pastor, the Rev. Leon H. Sullivan, was a leader in Philadelphia’s civil rights movement and often worked to focus and further the career aspirations of young people in his congregation. Shortly before Chappell’s high-school graduation, Sullivan gave her an aptitude test and noted her mathematical skills. “He then said, ‘I have just the job for you,’” Chappell later recalled in an interview with Philadelphia Tribune Magazine. She became a clerk-photographer at Continental Bank in 1959, making photostats of deposited checks for bank records
As Sullivan had hoped, Chappell soon began to aspire to a top executive position at the bank. Newly married to Verdayne Chappell, she attended evening classes for five years at Temple University in order to obtain the college degree she knew she would need in order to advance through Continental’s hierarchy. Although the marriage later ended in divorce, Chappell described her husband as supportive in an interview with Essence: “[He] gave me the extra push I needed to hang in there and stick to my goal of reaching the top in banking.”
At a Glance…
Born Emma Carolyn Bayton on February l8, 1941; father George Bayton, mother Emma; married Verdayne Chappell, late 1960s (later divorced); children Tracey and Verdaynea. Education: West Philadelphia High School; Temple University; graduate work in banking at Rutgers University. Religion: Baptist.
Carrer: Banking executive. Encouraged in career by civil-rights leader Rev. Leon Sullivan; joined staff at Continental Bank, Philadelphia, 1959; entered executive training program, 1967; organized Model Cities development program in Philadelphia, 1974; became Continental’s first black and first female vice-president, 1977; treasurer, Jesse Jackson Presidential campaign, 1984; raised money for black-owned bank startup, 1987-92; founder and CEO, United Bank of Philadelphia, 1992—.
Addresses: United Bank of Philadelphia, 714 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106.
Chappell worked as a teller and loan review specialist at Continental throughout this period, and the bank rewarded her perseverance by placing her in an executive training program after she left Temple in 1967. She completed the program in 1971 and, by 1977, had become both Continental’s first black and first female vice president.
Chappell had also begun to act on an impulse toward community service in her professional career. Beginning in 1974, she had worked to organize the Model Cities Business and Commercial Project, later renamed the Philadelphia Commercial Development Project; the organization brought together a consortium of lenders who sought to revitalize inner-city business activity. She later founded the Delaware Valley Mortgage Plan, which similarly attempted to assist individual potential home owners with low and moderate incomes. Loans fell within Chappell’s purview during her vice-presidency at Continental, but her idealism never led her to make bad business decisions: according to US Banker, her loanloss ratio during her twenty-year tenure was less than one percent, an impressive track record.
Chappell took a leave of absence from Continental in 1984 to serve as the treasurer of Jesse Jackson’s campaign for President. She also was one of the founders of the Rainbow Coalition, the organization Jackson founded to promote racial equality. Chappell and her two daughters, Tracey and Verdaynea, formed friendships with the family of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as other prominent families of the civil rights movement. Her rising reputation in political circles led to her selection in the early 1990s as one of a national group of executives assigned to make recommendations concerning the implementation of President Bill Clinton’s economic policies.
In 1987, Chappell was approached by a group of leading African Americans from Philadelphia’s commercial and financial communities. These leaders saw the need for a black-controlled bank in the city, which had been lacking since 1956. They tapped Chappell as a potential leader for the new bank, and she joined its board of directors. The board contributed $600,000 in seed money and Chappell approached large banks for the remainder of the $6 million in startup money needed to finance the venture. In her negotiations with banking executives, Chappell reminded them of the provisions of the federal Community Reinvestment Act and other laws mandating that banks make a certain percentage of their loans in the communities in which they operate.
Chappell’s efforts got off to a promising start, but the stock market crash of October 1987 severely hampered United’s chances of funding its startup through large commercial lenders. Undaunted, Chappell scoured Philadelphia for small investors, in the words of Black Enterprise magazine “literally walking the soles of her shoes off.” It has become commonplace to refer to the crucial role black churches play in the economic and social life of urban black communities, but never has the potential economic power of churches been more dramatically demonstrated than in Chappell’s campaign. On one “Black Bank Sunday,” 200 pastors across the city announced that Chappell had come within $1 million of her goal, and a total of $400,000 was raised in a single day. By 1991, Chappell had raised the needed $6 million; a startling $3.3 million came from a group of 3,000 small investors.
The United Bank of Philadelphia opened for business on March 23, 1992, with Chappell serving as chief executive officer. Like many minority-owned banks, United’s financial situation has at times been precarious. In order to grow quickly and increase its loan portfolio, United sought to acquire the assets of defunct savings-and-loan institutions under the administration of the federal Resolution Trust Corporation, and establish them as neighborhood branches of United. At first, the strategy succeeded brilliantly; United showed a profit of $862,000 in its second year of operation. The bank ran into trouble, however, when it acquired a Ukrainian-owned thrift in 1994. Following the acquisition, the institution’s Ukrainian depositors deserted United in droves. United’s losses in 1995 and 1996 were so massive that the bank was placed on a watch list by a Massachusettsbased research firm.
Despite these setbacks, United continued to grow and reached $106 million in assets by 1997. It began issuing its own credit cards and embarked on a partnership with American Express to offer investment advice and financial services to its depositors, a rare achievement for a bank of United’s size. Several larger banks have signaled their confidence in United by embarking on joint ventures. In 1995, United was named Financial Company of the Year by Black Enterprise.
United’s success has allowed Chappell to pursue some of her lifelong goals. She has embarked upon a campaign to improve banking services in historically poor neighborhoods of Philadelphia and surrounding cities— areas where many people had previously had little or no contact with a bank. Highly visible small-business developments have come to fruition with the help of loans Chappell has organized, and United numbered the city of Philadelphia among its major customers, with over $2 million in deposits. “The survival of this bank is important to the city,” Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell told Black Enterprise.
In a conversation with US Banker, Chappell explained her deeper motivations. “I like the position I have because I think it gives me the power to help people. I know this may sound funny, but I don’t do it because I think it will enhance the bank or that I can gain a new customer. I just do it because I believe it is the right thing to do. If you can help someone and don’t, that would be a sin.” Through her work at United Bank, Chappell has done much to help African Americans along the road to financial independence, and has served as a model of discipline and accomplishment for Americans of all backgrounds.
Smith, Jessie Carney, ed., Notable Black American Women, Gale Research, 1996.
Black Enterprise, June 1995, p. 166; August 1996, p. 68.
Business Wire, June 28, 1990, p. 1.
Essence, May 1976, p. 11.
Tribune Magazine (Philadelphia), March 1998, p. 12.
US Banker, May 1997, p. 65.
—James M. Manheim
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