It Takes Community: Building Financial Prosperity for All: An Interview with James H. Bason, President and CEO of TruFund Financial Services

As communities across the country face an unprecedented economic landscape, the need for community centered leadership has never been greater. The impact of historical divestment in communities of color has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing the financial burden on families, while limiting their financial security and access to financial assets. To truly address historical inequities and increase financial and business development in Black and Brown neighborhoods, it’s important to remember that “a community is only as strong as those who are willing to serve it.” That is the resounding message we learned from our conversation with James H. Bason, President and CEO of TruFund Financial Services.

A lifelong New York resident, James Bason graduated from SUNY Oswego University with a degree in business administration before attending the American Institute of Banking, where he received a degree in banking and financial services after which he earned a master’s degree in Nonprofit Management and Leadership from Fordham University. Pursuant   to his education, James spent 30 years in the private lending field, first with Barclays Bank International and then with the Bank of New York’s divisional credit team on Wall Street, James transitioned to community development lending, putting him at the forefront of conversations and protest regarding the failure of banks to invest in low-income communities. During this time, he became passionate about equal access to capital and through hands on experience, learned more about the day-to-day realities of communities that had been excluded from the financial sector and were starving for greater investment and business opportunities. He later joined Carver Federal Savings Bank, in Harlem, NY the nation’s largest black owned financial institution in the nation. where he led the bank’s lending, credit, and loan servicing operations. Working in Harlem, Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx with a majority Black and Brown client base, it became readily apparent that the perception that Black and Brown communities were “riskier investments” couldn’t be further from the truth. These experiences provided James with a clearer understanding of what it takes to serve Black and Brown people, and eventually guided him to his current position as President and CEO of TruFund Financial Services.

James became President and CEO of TruFund in 2011 and had an immediate impact in the CDFI space. TruFund provided James with a new platform to look “beyond perceived credit risk and profitability and consider the quality of financial assets.” Over time TruFund developed a reputation as an effective bridge between capital lending, grants, philanthropy and Black and Brown Communities. The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the greater attention placed on racial disparities, exemplified the need for TruFund’s leadership and guidance, as more institutions and organizations shifted their focus to investing in Black and Brown communities. Trufund has a long track record of providing emergency relief to small businesses, assisting with the economic recovery from the 9/11 World Trade Center Attacks, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita the 2010 BP Oil spill, and Hurricane Sandy. In 2020, the organization activated their disaster response unit, and began providing small business owners with financing through loans and grants as well as virtual business trainings. As of Feb. 28, 2022, TruFund had approved “approximately $232 million in small business loans to over 3,500 small businesses”. Approximately 84% of these loans were granted to minority-owned and women-owned businesses, or to borrowers located in low- or moderate-income communities.

TruFund, in July 2020, in partnership with Morgan Stanley and the Ford Foundation, launched a $26 million dollar Impact Developer Fund (“IDF”), IDF was established to provide equity capital and technical support to   established BIPOC real estate developers actively pursuing affordable housing development opportunities. In October 18, 2021, TruFund  in partnership with the Community Perseveration Corporation a New York State affordable housing lender, launched the  Developers Equity FundThis $6 million dollar fund “ which will similarly  provide equity capital and technical assistance to smaller emerging  BIPOC housing developers who  lack access to affordable capital and support from conventional sources”.    

For James, evolution and adaptability is key. “The current social moment and the racial awakening that took place during the summer of 2020 has provided us with an opportunity to bring our voices,” he said. “We can offer our years of experience and take this opportunity to structure a strategy for capital deployment to Black and Brown people and low-income communities.”

Additionally, advocating for policies that prioritize capital investment outside of the traditional debt structure, such as patient capital and equity-based structures can provide greater opportunities to people who “can’t afford to add any additional debt to their balance sheets.” By focusing on community and addressing uneven economic development, capital can be transformed from a historical barrier to a tool for investment and building long term wealth. As a member of the African American Alliance of CDFI CEO’s, James’s efforts with TruFund are amplified and the organization provides a collective voice, allowing African American CEOs to form a unified front when speaking on issues of racial equity, affordable housing, and economic justice. With the African American Alliance “Black CEOS have moved from the power of one to the power of the collective.,” said James. “It has given us greater recognition for our work, empowered us to be agents of change in our communities, and helped us engage in the national conversation around economic and social inequities and the need for change.”

As our country looks towards economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for organization, advocacy, and leadership regarding economic justice and racial disparities has never been clearer. Executives like James Bason, not only offer a wealth of experience but also a commitment to service that goes beyond personal accolades and touches the roots of financial insecurity and historical exclusion from the financial marketplace. The path towards economic prosperity for all requires individuals and organizations to make equitable access to capital a priority, while bringing Black and Brown communities to the forefront of economic development.