The state’s financial community marked a milestone Tuesday morning as the first ever Black-owned Minnesota bank opened its doors in Minneapolis, vowing to address the state's income and wealth disparities head on.
A handful of the state's biggest banks even helped out, in a rare show of cooperation aimed at diversifying Minnesota's financial services industry.
Detroit-based First Independence Bank opened the doors of its first expansion outside of Michigan, in a former Wells Fargo Bank branch near Highway 280 and University Avenue. It is the first time in Minnesota history a bank, with its tellers and loan officers, ATMs and drive-through lanes has had Black ownership.
Bank CEO Kenneth Kelly noted that the expansion may seem counterintuitive for a bank dedicated to diversity and looking for ground to grow on: Minnesota has some of the widest income gaps in the country, and a history of discriminatory loan practices that have long impaired Black wealth.
"Those things are true and that's one reason that it was important to us, to look at seeing how we can help solve those issues,” Kelly said.
Part of the solution, executives say, is to open a bank that looks like the people it seeks to serve. From the branch manager to the security staff to a jazz violinist playing in the parking lot to warm up the opening day crowd, customers will find people of color ready for business.
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"You know, we're really going to be a servant to the community and what that looks like is really striving to build stewards of banking,” said Damon Jenkins, a First Independence vice president and head of the new branch who has previous experience as a Wells Fargo executive in the Twin Cities.
"First pillar is financial wellness. We have to get the resources in people's hands, so they can understand banking, but more importantly so that they can trust banking again. And then the other thing is home ownership, you know we're really striving to get more Black people into homes, knowing that here in the state that's our biggest opportunity, with us having the worst discrepancy for homeownership in the nation for Black people."
The new bank is different in other ways as well.
It’s the product of an entire community effort. Banking giant Wells Fargo donated the building to the Twin Cities nonprofit Project for Pride in Living. In turn, they are leasing the bank branch to First Independence.
"We view this expansion as an effort that builds capabilities and muscle in communities of color, in the Black community for the long haul,” said Paul Williams, Project for Pride in Living’s CEO.
Williams hopes the site can even eventually include affordable housing and other amenities.
"Our folks deserve to be here."
The business advocacy group Greater MSP and four other banks, including Bank of America, Bremer Bank, Huntington Bank and U.S. Bank also joined in to help woo First Independence onto their own turf, setting aside their competitive nature to build diversity in the financial community.
Wells Fargo has put $50 million into what it calls minority depository institutions — banks owned and operated by people of color.
“It’s really, really important to understand that to close the racial wealth gap, it’s going to take all of us,” said Danielle Squires, head of diverse segments for corporate investment and banking at Wells Fargo. “It’s not a one-bank solution, it's not a five-bank solution, heck, it’s not a 20-bank solution. So we all need to work together to help institutions like First Independence grow and succeed and thrive. There's enough business to go around."
First Independence is already planning to open another branch at Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue in south Minneapolis in June.