In the Wake of SVB, Diversity is the Solution — Not the Problem

By Sallie Krawcheck

And the beat goes on. The contagion in the banking industry, which started with a run on Silicon Valley Bank earlier this month, made the jump to Europe over the weekend, taking down Credit Suisse and forcing it into a sale to its national rival, UBS.

So much for the pundits’ view that Silicon Valley Bank was an idiosyncratic one-off. Financial wildfires like this one are almost never isolated events, given the interconnectedness of the banking business.

The positive here is that the regulators are experienced, and they’re moving quickly and decisively. The other positive is that these environments have historically proven to be opportunities for long-term investors — like all of you — to put those recurring deposits that you so smartly make into your investment accounts to good use. These types of events have historically been an opportunity to have “bought low” as the economic cycle rights itself.

Through all of this, I’ve gotta be honest, I’m still SMH — and sort of laughing, but not really laughing — over that WSJ Op-Ed that implied that the implosion of Silicon Valley Bank was caused by “wokeness” and too much diversity. (That would mean Credit Suisse was in turn felled by wokeness and too much diversity. Bet those Swiss bankers never saw that coming.)

I guess the thinking behind that Op-Ed was: “Silicon Valley Bank is in California. By definition, it’s woke, amirite?”

Let me get this straight: The argument was that a bank that served the venture capital industry was … too diverse??

A bank built on servicing an industry where women-founded start-ups get 2% of funding and Black founders get 1% and women of color get as-close-to-0%-as-you-can-get-without-it-actually-being-0%? Where venture capitalists actually, literally describe their investment approach as “pattern recognition”? (In other words, “figure out what has worked and do it again,” “zig when others zig,” “invest in the same types of founders because you’ve always invested in those types of founders”…which is pretty much the opposite of diversity.)

The problem wasn’t that there was too much diversity at Silicon Valley Bank — it was the opposite. It didn’t have enough diversity in its business model. Instead, it was too concentrated in venture, with ~50% of its deposits in tech and venture. And then venture itself is too concentrated again, with the same kinds of investments and the same kinds of founders. Copy, paste; copy, paste.

And it’s not too far a reach from the homogeneity of the bank’s clients to the pack mentality that manifested itself into a run on the bank — when one of venture’s own panicked and called for it — causing, perhaps appropriately, the first bank run of the digital age – and a “Twitter-fueled bank run,” no less.

All of this was despite the research that ought to have pointed the way: that diverse teams outperform more homogenous teams, whether in an established company (like the bank) or at the start-ups the bank funded. Diverse teams deliver higher returns; they also mean lower risk (cough, cough) and greater innovation (cough, cough, cough).

So where do we go from here?

If history is any guide, diversity in the impacted industries will go — wait for it — backward. That’s what happened on Wall Street after the subprime crisis, when diversity initiatives were back-burnered in the heat of the moment. I remember hearing “We would love to promote her into this role, but we can’t take that risk [of diversity] right now.” Even though the real risk was not too much, but too little diversity.

There is some recognition of this issue in Washington, D.C. Last year, the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing (where I testified, along with several others) into how to “de-bro-ify” fintech and finance. The past couple of weeks just drive it home: Greater diversity in this industry should be part of the solution — and it’s long overdue.

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Sallie Krawcheck

Sallie Krawcheck is the Founder & CEO of Ellevest.