In a banking town long dominated by a few financial giants, US Bank, a relative newcomer to Charlotte, could be viewed as an underdog.
Although US Bank employs more than 900 back office workers in Charlotte, dating back to a 2005 acquisition, it did not open its first Charlotte branch (on Tryon Street in uptown) until October 2019. A second branch, on Pineville-Matthews Road, was opened a year later.
But if the Minneapolis-based bank faces stiff competition in Charlotte, Ashley Cumberbatch, a Charlotte native who launched a banking career while still a student at Howard University and now plays a major role in the bank’s Charlotte expansion plans, said she is confident of success.
As US Bank’s Charlotte district manager, Cumberbatch’s portfolio includes the bank’s retail branches, retail expansion, digital strategy, and the coordination of retail banking with wealth management, mortgage and business banking.
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“I’ve always been a hard worker,” Cumberbatch said during an interview inside the Tryon Street branch, which she managed immediately after returning home in 2019.
With two branches now open and two more in the works — in the SouthPark and Blakeney areas of south Charlotte — Cumberbatch said US Bank’s current plans call for at least 10 branches to open in her district.
Competition, she knows, will be fierce.
In addition to Bank of America and Wells Fargo, two behemoths with roots sunk deep into the Charlotte market, the city in recent years has seen an explosion of new banking rivals — smaller institutions such as Ally, Truist, Regions and First National Bank — all vying for the cash and loyalty of retail clients.
Just last week, digital-only Varo Bank announced that it had selected Charlotte for its East Coast hub, The Charlotte Observer reported.
Cumberbatch said she believes US Bank can set itself apart. The bank, she said, will attract new clients using a combination of the latest digital technology and old-fashioned customer service, but with a modern twist.
“Our approach is very proactive,” she said. “So when our customers walk in, we’re going up and greeting them, welcoming them to the bank. That is very different than traditionally a customer coming in and kind of finding their way.”
Cumberbatch said US Bank will be calling its customers proactively “to help them with their financial goals and plans.” While in branches, she said, bankers will consult one-on-one with walk-in clients to demonstrate the bank’s latest high-tech consumer banking tools.
From Charlotte to D.C
The daughter of small business owners, Cumberbatch grew up in Charlotte with dreams of being a lawyer. She attended a series of Catholic schools — St. Gabriel’s, Holy Trinity and Charlotte Catholic — before her parents moved to a different part of town and she was enrolled in Butler High School at the start of her senior year.
At Howard, she majored in political science.
Howard, she said, “really lined up with where I wanted to be, being in DC, but also I wanted to go to a historically black college.”
Cumberbatch said she was initially attracted to law out of a desire to help people, but while a student at Howard, she landed a job as a part-time bank teller and was shortly promoted to personal banking. So long to her plans of being a lawyer.
“As a banker, I realized I had this very unique opportunity to help people, but in a way that I didn’t expect,” she said, “so really being able to help people with their financial planning, with their financial goals.”
The part-time job, Cumberbatch said, also helped her become smarter at managing her own money.
“I had a lot to learn, especially as a young Black woman,” she said. “I would say my parents did very well, but there was still a lot that I just didn’t have the exposure to. And so that was another reason why it was important to me, because I saw within the community that I was serving how few people knew about building credit, saving for the future, planning for retirement. And so luckily, there was an investment in my training and in my knowledge, and it allowed me to be able to have those conversations with other people who needed it.”
After college, Cumberbatch worked for a series of banks, in personal banking as well as in small business banking, before learning of US Bank’s expansion plans in Charlotte.
“I said, ‘sign me up; sign me up for that. That sounds great — sounds exactly like what I’ve been preparing for,’” she recalled.
In addition to being close to family, Cumberbatch said she likes Charlotte’s affordability — she and her husband recently bought their first home — and the traffic in Charlotte is far lighter than in D.C., making her daily commute more tolerable.
“I must say, I got hours of my life back,” she joked.
Despite the slower pace, Cumberbatch said she finds Charlotte’s banking climate to be both competitive and exciting.
“A ton of people are moving here every day,” she said. “I’ve noticed it not just with banking, but…even with restaurants. When I left, it was pretty much just traditional places. Now every time I turn around, there’s a new restaurant popping up, a new activity, a new thing to do. People are open to something new.”
Charlotte’s growth, she said, was a primary factor that drove US Bank’s decision to expand here — that and the fact that US Bank already had more than 40,000 customers in this market who held US Bank products such as mortgages, credit cards and car loans.
Since its Charlotte expansion, US Bank has committed more than $4.5 million in various forms of loans and grants to address the city’s short supply of affordable housing. It recently announced a $50,000 grant to the West Side Community Land Trust.
Across the nation in its 26-state footprint, US Bank has launched a series of initiatives to address economic disparities and assist Black-owned businesses.
For her part, Cumberbatch has joined the board of the Alexander Youth Network, which is focused on mental health for children. She also serves on an advisory committee for Habitat for Humanity of the Charlotte Region.
When asked how she decides where she will invest her volunteer efforts, Cumberbatch said she has to be judicious, given the demands of her job.
“The things that I am most passionate about are being involved with women, being involved in the Black community and being involved with our youth,” she said.
As for diversity in her industry, Cumberbatch said work remains, but she also said banks have made inroads, and she encourages young people who might be interested in banking to think broadly about the industry.
“I would say, think about banking as a huge industry. There are a lot of positions that are out there,” she said. “…Really consider your skill set and what you’re good at and how that skill set can be applied to a position that you see that might be of interest. If you don’t have a LinkedIn, I would advise you to set up a LinkedIn account, and don’t be afraid to network and engage and reach out to people and get connected.”