Liberty And Profit For All

By stepping in when other banks gave up, Liberty Bank & Trust has created a profit centera profit center for Louisiana's black community

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Alden J. Mcdonald Jr. has the look of a man being sold a bill of goods. McDonald, president and CEO of New Orleans Liberty Bank & Trust Co., is visiting his General DeGaulle branch and has just been cornered in an elevator by a 30-ish, attractive African American woman. Representing a local HMO, she’s come in to give the branch manager a presentation on why Liberty, which bids out its health insurance coverage at a cost of $250,000 annually, should give her company a test run. Sensing an unexpected opportunity to make her pitch to the top man, she goes into hard sell mode.
But McDonald isn’t having it.

“You’re jumping the gun. If your firm wants to work with us, then they have a lot more to do before they send you down to give a presentation,” he says firmly. “I need to see an EEOC report and know if you guys have any black people up near the top. I also want a commitment that they’re going to be adding more black doctors to their HMO. There’s more to do, a lot more.” Then, in a kinder tone, he adds, “I’m doing this for the few of you over there, too, as well as us.”

Privately, McDonald insists he’s been burned by an HMO before. He made similar demands with an earlier health care carrier that agreed to include black physicians, per Liberty’s request, for a short time, but soon reneged. This time, he wants it in writing. “When we spend our money, we want to make sure in some fashion it’s staying in the community and it’s not with a company that discriminates or doesn’t include minorities in the process,” he says.

Whether they’ll bend to his demands is uncertain. But these days, the 53- year-old McDonald can afford to play hardball with an HMO and just about anyone else within New Orleans proper. McDonald and Liberty Bank are on a serious roll, with the purchase of three new bank branches last year alone–two in New Orleans and one in Baton Rouge. Liberty’s recent successes are all the more impressive because of the bank’s grim outlook just a few years ago.

In the late ’80s and very early ’90s, the order of the day was streamline until it really hurts and then cut back a little bit more. When McDonald jokes now about the days of tracking paper clips to keep costs down, he sounds like a man who has walked through a dark tunnel to find a green valley on the other side.

While Lazarus-like insinuations may be pushing the analogy a bit far, to say that Liberty has come full circle since being named BLACK ENTERPRISE s Bank of the Year in 1984 would be a severe understatement. The oil bust of 1986-87 was the kiss of death for many independent banks in the New Orleans parish. Of the 10 independently owned commercial banks in New Orleans prior to 1985, only two survived the oil-bust debacle. And McDonald says Liberty

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