This summer, Mark Henriques, the host of In-House Roundhouse podcast, and a partner at Womble Bond Dickinson (US), LLP, and I sat down with three team members at Truist to discuss their key roles in issuing Truist’s first social bond in March.  The Truist team is comprised of Tori Kaplan, Head of CSR/ESG; Anthony Weekly, Chief CRA Officer; and Augie Husmillo, Corporate Funding Manager.  

The social bond they issued is a type of environmental, social, and governance bond, otherwise known as an “ESG” bond.  According to the Truist team, the social bond is “dedicated to initiatives to address low- to moderate-income communities, affordable housing, and provide access to essential infrastructure such as healthcare and utilities”.

Shortly after the proposed merger of SunTrust and BB&T was announced in 2019, ultimately creating Truist, the two merging banks jointly announced a three-year, $60 billion plan to invest in their communities, focusing on affordable housing, small business, and financial wellness.  The Truist Bank Community Benefits Plan is “the largest plan of its kind since the Great Recession, and will include the following:  $31 billion for mortgages; $7.8 billion for small business lending; $17.2 billion in community development lending; and $3.6 billion for qualified CRA investments and philanthropic work”.   

Anthony highlighted Truist’s purpose, one which is simple yet so very powerful:  “To inspire and build better lives and communities.  It is simply who we are” and Augie confirmed the same, stating, “this is in our DNA”.   Having represented Truist now for over 20 years, I certainly have firsthand knowledge of the truth of these statements.  With unwavering diligence, every Truist team member involved in the closings I have handled, embodies this philosophy in their daily tasks.  Their spirit of compassion and caring for the people and the communities with and in which they live and work will have lasting impacts for generations to come.

With this in mind, Tori shared that in the midst of the merger and with the pandemic accentuating challenges that were already there, they “accelerated their efforts and decided that a bond was the best way to meet the needs across the country”.  Once they made this decision, they moved quickly.  Augie advised that, “while it is normally a 6-month runway and maybe even 12-24 months for a company to issue an ESG bond, Truist was able to develop the framework in just 60 days”.  

Credit for the expedited timeline is shared by both heritage banks.  The teams from the banks’ Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Finance/Corporate Treasury, and other critical internal teams, dove in with an end goal in mind and made it happen.  Their success is as basic as that.  Sure, there were some challenges along the way, like team members operating out of two different systems, but as Tori stated, “sometimes when things are a little chaotic is when you can do your best work because you don’t get lost in the details because you are really and urgently focused on the outcome”.  She offered three themes to achieving success:  

  1. “Alignment—make sure you are aligned as an organization. 
  2. Partnership—find those with subject matter expertise.
  3. End goal—start with the end in mind; look at where you want to be and work backwards”.  

Augie agreed.  His advice is to “know what you are good at and then start from the bottom up.  The bond was the end goal, but working through what we were good at and what we were made of that is our social commitment for many decades, that made it much more of an achievable task.  So, start with what your core competency is as an institution.”

As far as the types of projects that may fall under the Truist ESG Framework, Anthony outlined a foundation based on four pillars as follows:

  1. “Leadership-empowers that leaders support high-quality lifelong learning that is affordable and acceptable.
  2. Economic mobility in small businesses that support scalable programs that build career pathways to economic mobility and strengthen small businesses. 
  3. Educational equity-this is a large one; to develop educational learning platforms aimed at eradicating literacy gaps and conditions across our country.
  4. Thriving communities-support innovative community development efforts which develop and maintain affordable housing, create healthy communities and stimulate community equity”.

The banking industry is heavily regulated and rigorous reporting requirements must be met.  Augie shared that there are currently no standardized reporting requirements for ESG bonds.  He further stated that “as more money flows and capital flows and investors become more aware of the standards, hopefully there is a convergence, but right now we wanted to meet Truist standards and we used UN sustainable development goals”.  

So, what’s next for the Truist team?  They have yet to set a target date for another bond, but, as Tori explained, we are “working on galvanizing and cementing ESG practices moving forward so it is reasonable to think in this universe where we are all talking about climate change very regularly that our renewable energy investments are only going to increase so we are keeping an eye on that and looking at those future opportunities where we can continue down the social path but as well venture into some other territories in addition.”  There is no doubt that we will see future bonds from Truist that will positively impact our communities.

It really is refreshing to see the 6th largest commercial bank in the United States putting so much emphasis on building better communities.  They truly are an inspiration to other companies and to us all.  The passion of this team was evident throughout our discussion.

You may listen to the full podcast, Episode 76, here.

Personal note:  When I was asked to write an article for Womble’s Doing Well by Doing Good campaign, it only made sense for me to write about my client, Truist.  Two decades ago I had just joined a new law firm and was approached by one of the partners.  They needed someone to jump in and tackle the 24 loan closings that had recently come in for SunTrust.  It seemed a monumental task as the deadlines loomed. However, with the assistance of a dedicated paralegal, the closings were completed and we absolutely loved every minute of it.  It was my first encounter with affordable housing and low-income housing tax credits and would not be my last.  Like many things in life, we simply slide into things and this was such a fortuitous introduction for me.  My choice to attend law school was prompted by my desire to help people.  Sometimes life gets in the way and after graduation from law school, paying off my student loans became more of a necessity.  Never could I have imagined, however, the personal fulfillment to be achieved through my work representing SunTrust, now Truist.  From the projects to the people, they have been amazing champions in their efforts to build better communities.  I continue to be thankful for all that they do and for allowing me to be even just a small part of it.