Study reveals racial and ethnic disparities in loan industry advertising

New research authored by University of Houston Law Center Professor Jim Hawkins and student Tiffany Penner and published in the Emory Law Journal indicates that the payday lending industry often targets black and Latino communities in advertising of their products, while mainstream banking targets white consumers.

In “Advertising Injustices: Marketing Race and Credit in America,” Hawkins and Penner present two empirical studies they conducted of lenders in Houston that verified these disparities in online advertising.

“Everyone knows that advertising affects behavior, so we looked at how banks and payday lenders advertise,” the authors said. “Sociologists have shown that people buy goods and services when they see other people like them buying these products. We wanted to know whether banks and payday lenders represented their clients in a way that represented the general population or only certain races. “

The study found:

  • While African Americans make up only 16% of auto securities lending clients and 23% of payday loan clients, 35% of the photographs on these lenders’ websites represent African Americans.
  • 77% of the advertisements in the physical locations of auto lenders and payday lenders in the study targeted racial minority groups.
  • 30% of traditional bank lender websites did not feature any African American model, and nearly 75% did not feature any Latin model.
  • In contrast, only 3% – a single bank’s website – did not have a white template.

Recent news articles, citing the Hawkins and Penner stock exchange, examine how lenders are maximizing their profits by demanding high interest rates during the COVID-19 pandemic when many people have been vulnerable and in dire financial straits. Bloomberg analysis of data shows black and Latino communities have become prime targets, and the article reports that many people have had to set aside government pandemic relief funds to help pay off debts. .

Hawkins and Penner examined two significant negative consequences that emerge from targeting African Americans and Latinos for payday loans and title deeds while pictorially excluding them from mainstream banks. The first consequence is that advertising works, and African Americans and Latinos are more likely than white customers to use high cost credit. They also found that advertising shapes societal norms and expectations about where people “fit in”. This in turn, according to the study, creates a “self-sorting” effect and contributes to racial disparity in access to credit.

Hawkins and Penner’s goal for the study is to have a positive impact that will change the way lenders advertise. Specifically, they encourage financial institutions to eliminate discriminatory marketing that omits certain racial groups, as some banks currently only feature white models in advertisements.

“We hope that companies will voluntarily change their advertising practices to represent people of all races in their advertising,” said the authors. In addition, we urge Congress to amend the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to explicitly prohibit discriminatory advertising by creditors, and federal regulators to use this law along with the Community Reinvestment Act to make advertising banks and fair payday lenders. “


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