One of the largest banks in the United States, Bank of America wields a tremendous amount of power in the financial services industry. With over 3,800 U.S. branches and over $2.5 trillion in assets, the institution is the second-largest bank in the U.S.
The bank provides financial services to approximately 68 million consumer and small business clients, and 57 million digital users utilize Bank of America’s digital banking services.
Unfortunately, a spate of account cancelations has raised the very real possibility that Bank of America is discriminating against customers based on religious or political views.
For example, in April 2023, Bank of America canceled the accounts of Memphis-based Christian charity Indigenous Advance and a local church that supports it financially. The bank sent letters stating that the ministry and church were “operating in a business type we have chosen not to service” and that the ministry’s account “no longer aligns with the bank’s risk tolerance.” In operation since 2015, Indigenous Advance partners with Ugandan ministries to provide basic necessities for orphaned and vulnerable children, raise Christian families, and provide vital vocational skills training and mentorship to college students and young adults.
Indigenous Advance received notice of its account cancelations within months of another Bank of America customer—Christian author, preacher, and podcaster Lance Wallnau—reporting that his account was frozen by the bank. Bank of America told Wallnau that it suspected his account was involved in money laundering and forced him to answer a series of invasive questions to lift the freeze on his account.
These incidents show the real-world impact of Bank of America’s failure to protect the foundational freedoms of its customers at the policy level—which is reflected in the bank’s 8% out of 100% score on the 2023 Viewpoint Diversity Score Business Index.
Bank of America scored only 5% on index’s Market section, which quantifies whether a company respects diversity of views among its customers and vendors. This score is largely due to the company’s vague terms of service, as well as its lack of transparency around denial of services.
The company’s terms of service are imprecise and unclear, providing leeway for the bank to deny financial services based on a client’s viewpoint. For example, BofA states that it may deny services to clients who “promote intolerance… or hate”—vague terms that can be construed broadly.
Further, BofA did not disclose its criteria for restricting services, nor does it have a policy requiring that clients be notified of the reasons behind any account closure.
This lack of transparency, combined with vague terms of service, negatively affects real people. In canceling accounts belonging to Indigenous Advance and two related entities—including the ministry’s supporting church—BofA delayed Indigenous Advance’s ability to pay its Ugandan employees. Like many in the impoverished nation, Ugandans who partner with Indigenous Advance don’t live paycheck-to-paycheck. They live meal-to-meal.
As Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel and Vice President of Corporate Engagement Jeremy Tedesco pointed out to Fox Business, BofA spent months stonewalling Indigenous Advance leaders who tried repeatedly to get an explanation for why the accounts were canceled, but then immediately responded to a request from international media outlet The Daily Mail.
“It’s obvious [BofA] is trying to reverse-engineer excuses now for why they did the bad act four or five months ago,” Tedesco told Fox Business. “It’s pretty amazing to me that they started talking to the media and giving them reasons for why they closed the account, but they never once told [Indigenous Advance].”
The initial letters Indigenous Advance received did not provide any reason for the sudden account closures, saying only that “upon review of your account(s), we have determined you’re operating in a business type we have chosen not to service at Bank of America.” In a later letter, BofA told Indigenous Advance that its accounts were being closed because the charity “no longer aligns with the bank’s risk tolerance.”
In public statements to The Daily Mail and Fox News, BofA offered a twofold rationale that it was unwilling to back up with specific policies.
“[I]t’s increasingly difficult to escape the conclusion that” the incident is part of a rising global trend of ideological de-banking, Tedesco wrote at The Christian Post,
BofA plays an important role in the nation’s life. Too many Americans depend on BofA for the institution to hold overbroad policies that allow for the type of adverse actions against account holders that Indigenous Advance and Lance Wallnau have experienced.
Further, while BofA boasts of its transparency with customers and shareholders and celebrates its perfect score with the far-left Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, the institution declined to participate in the survey portion of the 2023 Viewpoint Diversity Score Business Index
Bank of America scored 10% on the Workplace section of the Business Index.
BofA does not have a policy promoting respect for diverse beliefs at work. However, it deserves some credit: its career webpage affirms that it values diversity of thought and opinion, its D&I reporting includes tracking of respect for viewpoint diversity, and its hiring policy prohibits religious discrimination.
Still, BofA should make improvements in how it demonstrates respect for the viewpoint diversity of its employees. For example, BofA implements workforce training that encourages employees to become “woke at work”—an explicitly partisan call to action that alienates employees with conservative values. BofA also prohibits employees from posting “inappropriate” or “discriminatory remarks” on social media—vague terms that are not defined and that could be used to restrict expression of certain beliefs.
BofA’s social media policy reflects a larger trend among the American workforce. According to the 2023 Freedom at Work Survey, over half of employees say they are concerned that sharing political or religious content on their own social media feeds could result in negative consequences at work.
Large pluralities (49 percent and 48 percent) of those surveyed say their companies could make important progress by adopting policies that protect viewpoint diversity in the workplace and ensuring that employees are free to engage in political activities on their own time without fear of repercussions at work.
Finally, BofA received low marks in the Workplace section due to its employee donation-matching program, which facially excludes faith-based non-profits. In particular, BofA’s policy states that organizations whose purpose is to “promote or to discourage the observance or proselytization of religious beliefs” are ineligible from the program—a clear prohibition on giving to faith-based charities that impacts religious employees throughout the institution.
Bank of America scored 8% on the Public Square section, which tracks whether companies either support or undermine viewpoint diversity in the broader society. Specifically, this section of the Business Index studies a company’s political spending and advocacy, its response to shareholder proposals, and its public statements and donations. Unfortunately, BofA fell short of the mark in all three areas.
The bank’s political spending and activism demonstrate a lack of respect for viewpoint diversity. Forty-eight percent of BofA’s political contributions went to candidates with negative records on free speech and religious liberty; only 18% of its spending went to candidates with positive records.
BofA also supports legislation that would harm viewpoint diversity, such as the Equality Act, which, in practice, would compel uniformity of government-approved speech on marriage, gender identity, and sexual orientation. BofA also opposed a shareholder proposal designed to promote human rights and protect viewpoint diversity.
BofA’s charitable giving tells the same story. The bank funds and/or partners with anti-free speech organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and the Center for American Progress while preventing employees from giving to faith-based groups in their donor-matching program.
Bank of America can improve its score by replacing vague language its policies, promoting respect for viewpoint diversity in the workplace, and publicly committing to support freedom of speech and religion in its public square activities. Bank of America’s score would also improve if it increased transparency by participating in the survey portion of the Business Index.