Should We Kick PNC Out of the Mountainlair?

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There’s been some pretty heavy debate on campus recently: PNC Bank’s five year contract with WVU has expired, and there’s been some serious disagreement about whether the bank should get another contract. Environmental groups on campus are upset with the Bank’s past behavior, while supporters argue for the Bank’s versatility and service. Currently, the contract to be WVU’s banking partner is up the air – should we give it to PNC again? 

Let’s weigh our options.

Reasons to Kick PNC Out

1. PNC has given loans to companies that fund Mountaintop Removal – in essence, PNC has helped fund the destruction of West Virginia. In 2011, PNC wrote loans to some of the largest coal companies in the U.S.: Patriot Coal, Consol Energy, and Arch Coal are a few examples. All of them use Mountaintop Removal, a high-impact form of mining that has a disastrous effect on the environment. MTR ruins streams, pollutes groundwater, destroys animal habitat and damages the health of local residents. By flattening mountaintops these companies are destroying West Virginia’s ecosystem. The irony is worse given West Virginia’s status as “The Mountain State” – do we want to allow a bank complicit in this destruction to make money off of WVU?

2. With the end of this contract, we have a rare opportunity to change WVU’s bank. I’m willing to bet the next contract will last another five years, and if we sign with PNC again, that’s another five years we’ll have to wait to get rid of them. Let’s capitalize on this opportunity. There are people at WVU who agree with me – last March the Sierra Student Coalition at WVU organized protests outside the Mountainlair against PNC. Let’s strike while the iron is hot.

3. West Virginia University is the flagship educational institution in this state – what kind of message are we sending if we take money from a bank like PNC? Besides the Mountaintop Removal issue, PNC is a Pittsburgh-based company. Why should we use them and funnel money to a bank outside West Virginia when there’s options like MVB and United that are WV-based? If we have PNC as our bank, we’re showing local banks that we don’t care about them. Should West Virginia University, the pride and joy of West Virginia, partner with an out-of-state bank that funds the destruction of our mountains? Even the Student Goverment Association at WVU gets somewhere between $40,000 and $52,000 for their budget from PNC’s rent payments for the Lair location. Bad juju.

Reasons to Keep PNC Bank

1. As the fifth-largest in the U.S., PNC is a powerful bank with national reach. There are PNC locations all over the eastern U.S. As a result, students coming from several states away can be sure they have a relevant bank. Students starting their first bank accounts with PNC here know that when they go home to New York, Ohio or New Jersey that they’ll have a bank there. Their parents will also be able to put funds in their accounts – we all know how important that is. If we keep PNC, WVU will be more appealing to students from far away. As we know, that’s WVU’s goal – look at our move to the Big 12 Conference.

2. PNC provides lots of excellent services to customers, especially students. The bank is no stranger to students – there are PNCs at more than 100 colleges and universities across eight states. With financial planning resources and flexible student accounts, PNC makes it easy for students to learn the ropes of banking. Plus, the organization offers super easy online and mobile banking, a must for modern times. But it’s not just about banking  – WVU outsources many financial services to PNC, including financial aid reimbursement checks. PNC is well-established and is a great choice for students – that’s probably how they won that first contract in the first place.

3. If we kick out PNC for idealistic reasons, can we be sure another bank can handle the workload? Currently, WVU outsources a lot of financial work to PNC, including the issuing of reimbursement checks. That’s millions of dollars a year transferred, cashed out, and deposited in, on and around WVU. Also, PNC operates a bank location in the Mountainlair and maintains ATMs at WVU campuses all across the state. Can we be sure another smaller bank can handle PNC’s workload? PNC is well established and their methods are sound. A smaller replacement bank might not have the resources to handle WVU’s complex demands, which could be bad for students. A lot of things hosted by the Mountainlair – Mountaineer Week, Homecoming, UpAllNight – benefit directly from PNC’s payments to WVU. Many students base their livelihood off refund checks – can we afford to risk a potential delay in issuing them?

What do you think? Should we keep PNC? Leave a comment or tweet at me. You can also come and speak your voice at the WVUSGA meetings every Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in Hatfield’s B of the Mountainlair. 

So we can argue whatever we like about PNC, but how is the University responding?

Normally, if a contract ends and the University is interested in finding another partner, they’ll begin the Request For Proposal process, and potential clients (in this case, banks) would bid on the job. Each potential partner would offer services at the lowest cost, and the University would pick the bank that wins. It’s basically like an anonymous silent auction where the University picks the winner. The RFP’s are usually open and up for the public to see – the RFP for the bank spot is not online yet. This may be because the committee overseeing the contract process hasn’t met yet, considering the anonymous student on the board was appointed by SGA late last week.

Or… WVU may be withholding the open RFP because they’re trying to make a behind-the-scenes deal. It’s no secret that United Bank definitely donates massive amounts of money to WVU, especially to the athletic department. I’m sure those kinds of donations could win brownie points when it comes to business deals. Maybe WVU is courting exclusive competitors in private – which one can come up with a sweeter deal for the University?

Whatever happens, I hope it’s in the best interests of the University, the students, and our state.

Rainforest Action Network on Flickr.

Rainforest Action Network on Flickr.

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9 thoughts on “Should We Kick PNC Out of the Mountainlair?

  1. Interesting article Bryan. I had no idea PNC gave loans to companies that fund Mountaintop Removal. This is a great way to tie this post in locally here in West Virginia as Mountaintop Removal is a huge deal. I like the way you made cases both for and against PNC. I think that’s the sign of good reporting and way to avoid your post being too advice-driven. Nice job!

  2. There is no question of PNC being a great bank; it is convenient, well-established, and big enough to handle such a massive university. However, for me, the debate ends at the first point. How can WVU, the flagship university of the MOUNTAIN State and whose mascot is the MOUNTAINeer, host in the MOUNTAINlair a bank that funds the destruction of mountains? The irony is ridiculous. Even the WiFi connection on campus has the word “mountain” in its name. Unless PNC cuts its ties with mountaintop removal mining, WVU needs to cut its ties with PNC.

  3. I would be interested in seeing whether any of the alternatives to PNC have financial ties to mountaintop removal as well. My gut tells me that United, BB&T, etc also have these ties. I doubt you can grow into a large national bank and not have some ties to an environmentally destructive practice. For example, is there a single bank in the region that doesn’t fund fracking on some level? Let’s not act like PNC is breaking the mold here.

  4. Bryan,

    I have never really been a supporter of PNC bank on campus. Most of that is for ideological reasons…but I had no idea about its support for mountaintop removal. That just makes me even more prone to disliking PNC.

    I’m glad that you told both sides of the story. Many people that are from outside of the state that come to school here may have issues if United (or some other WV bank) was the University bank because they would have to pay extra fees all the time to take cash out. I think that the University needs to bring in a large, well-known bank, but it is seriously time to consider a replacement that values West Virginia and its people.

  5. I think a complete divestment from all things PNC from a University with as opaque investment transparency as WVU is unlikely, but that does not mean the students should not strive for it. I remember back in 2010 PNC issued a statement saying that it would no longer invest in Mountaintop removal…..this unfortunately turned out to be a lie. Changing times are once again coming to our University, and it is important now more than ever to maintain an environmentalist presence on campus. If we get a new president next year, and the first thing they see is a group of students standing up for the mountains rather than fighting to tear them down, it could start a chain of positive changes on campus. So fight to get PNC out of that prime Mountainlair real estate!

  6. Good read, Bryan, but I seriously doubt PNC is the only financial institution financing environmentally questionable activities. With that being said, can one find another institution large enough to service WVU’s student body that has not taken part in some questionable activities?

    If one reaches far enough, he can find something politically or environmentally oriented to complain about with pretty much every corporation in the country.

  7. Good post, and good changes to this format. In addition to providing rich evidence for all points, you’re acknowledging the full debate, even while making your personal views clear, and the result (by these comments, at least) seems to be a richer discussion rather than one defined by support/opposition for your post. Keeping the focus on the debate (rather than making the post the focus of the debate) is an important realization.

  8. bring in wellsfargo. they’re pretty good to to students and customers

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