“It’s sensitivity training, so that everyone gets up to speed,” says Kathy Meunier, a senior vice president at SunTrust who serves on the bank’s diversity council. “We want to be more inclusive.”
Details of the program are still being worked out, Meunier says. The council has met only twice about the pilot program, and the bank’s marketing team has only just begun to explore how to advertise the concept, if at all.
The new program comes amid turbulent times for Virginia’s gay community. The state’s recently passed Marriage Affirmation Act (HB 751) has many gay couples worried about how the new law, which goes into effect July 1, affects joint checking and savings accounts, mortgages and other financial assets. In addition to banning gay marriage, the new law prohibits any “partnership contract or other arrangement between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage. …”
Meunier says SunTrust’s decision to start sensitivity training at some branches has nothing to with the new law, however. It’s been in the works for some time. And the bank already has gay-friendly branches in the Washington area.
In Richmond, SunTrust would appear to be the first bank to launch such a program. Like SunTrust, Wachovia Corp. offers same-sex health insurance and other benefits to gay employees, but it also has a more broadly based training program. There is no training or marketing program specifically geared toward homosexuals, says Carrie Ruddy, a spokeswoman in Wachovia’s Charlotte, N.C., headquarters.
SunTrust isn’t sure which branches in Richmond will get the program first (possibly the Carytown and Allen Avenue branches). And what the program will entail is still being ironed out.
“We just want to make sure we do a good job of making people feel comfortable,” Meunier says. “If you are part of a gay couple and you have to come into to get a mortgage, how comfortable are you going to be talking about your relationship? We want to open up the lines of communication. We want to be an inclusive bank.” — Scott Bass
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