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Bold Types

Eastern Bank’s Bob Rivers on promoting social equity through small businesses

Bold Types|Bob Rivers
Rivers discusses why he’s placed social justice issues at the center of Eastern Bank’s mission. (Produced by Anush Elbakyan/Globe Staff, Edited by Anush Elbakyan/Globe Staff, Camera work by Anush Elbakyan, Caitlin Healy, Shelby Lum/Globe Staff)

Bob Rivers is chairman and chief executive of Eastern Bank, one of the largest and oldest mutual banks in the United States. In the latest edition of the Globe’s Bold Types video series, Rivers discusses why he’s placed social equity at the center of the Boston-based bank’s mission.

Rivers, 54, who started in banking as a teller and later a janitor in Stoughton, discussed how a $10 million investment launched the bank’s Foundation for Business Equity after a Federal Reserve Bank of Boston study showed white households in the area had a much higher average net worth of $247,000, compared to black households, which had just $8.


“We really launched the foundation for business equity and various programs related to it, to help in some way address that gap,” he said. “Being the leading small-business lender here in Massachusetts, the obvious way for us to do that was to take our own expertise in what we do as a business, combined with the passion and interest of our mission, and really focus on small businesses — specifically small businesses of color, to help them scale here in the Boston area.”

Eastern Bank has branches in 10 of the state’s 26 gateway cities, he said. Rivers noted they opened Chelsea’s first-full service bank in over a decade in 2008, followed by Lawrence’s first such bank in more than 23 years.

Boston, he acknowledged, has a reputation for not being welcoming to minorities — a problem that prompted his company to diversify its board so they could attract top talent.

“Very talented people are looking at this city and deciding not to come here — certainly for a variety of reasons, but this reputation is one of them,” Rivers said. “They look up at the power structure here . . . and they see people who look like me — not like them.”


In the future, “I want to see people in the seat that I happen to hold not look like me. I want to see far more women, far more people of color . . . that’s the Boston I want to see,” he added.