Detroit-based First Independence Bank, one of only 18 Black-owned full-service banks in the country, has filed an application to open a branch in the Twin Cities. The first branch is set to open in November.
Five banks in the Twin Cities—Bank of America, Bremer Bank, Huntington Bank, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo—are each supporting First Independence Bank’s arrival with capital, research, marketing, and other services to assure its start-up and long-term success.
Gov. Tim Walz welcomed the news. “In Minnesota, we know that a strong economy is an equitable economy, and the opening of First Independence Bank is a notable milestone to achieving an economy that works for all Minnesotans,” Walz said in a joint statement with Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan released on Aug. 19. “I offer my warmest congratulations to First Independence Bank, and I thank our entire banking community in Minnesota for providing the support and capital to make this a reality.”
“I am excited to welcome First Independence Bank to Minnesota. Black communities have been systematically excluded from opportunities in Minnesota’s economy, leading to significant gaps in wealth,” added Lt. Gov. Flanagan. “The opening of First Independence Bank is an incredibly important step toward a stronger economic future for all Minnesotans. I am grateful to First Independence Bank’s commitment to creating a more equitable economy and look forward to their work here in Minnesota.”
The Twin Cities branch of First Independence Bank will be the 51-year-old enterprise’s first outside of its home state of Michigan. It will be located at 3430 University Ave. S.E. in Minneapolis. The location is a former bank branch that Wells Fargo has donated to Project for Pride in Living (PPL), which is working with First Independence Bank on its expansion into the market.
“We are fortunate to find a site on a major thoroughfare, making it accessible to the large cross-section of residents and businesses that a bank needs to be economically viable,” First Independence Bank chairman and CEO Kenneth Kelly said. “Being on a light rail line and a bus route is a plus for the under-resourced communities we hope to serve, particularly the Black community. So is the opportunity to be part of an established commercial area with few nearby banking options.”
He added that the site also has a drive-through for added convenience, and space to host education sessions and community gatherings.
The branch is expected to open in early November. A second location at Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue is possible in the future, Kelly noted.
“We are thrilled to be working with these five banks to open a branch in the region,” Kelly said. “Banks are beacons of hope in their communities, and we intend to be that for the people of Minneapolis, St. Paul and the rest of the Twin Cities, particularly those who are unbanked or underbanked throughout the region.”
Damon Jenkins, formerly Wells Fargo’s district manager for Minneapolis, has joined First Independence Bank as senior vice president and Twin Cities regional market president.
Kelly said First Independence Bank’s decision to open in the Twin Cities came easily after discussions that began in April with several Black business, religious, nonprofit, and other community leaders in the region.
“Since First Independence Bank prioritizes services to the Black community and under-resourced businesses and individuals, it was important to me to listen to these leaders about what the community needs and how the bank could make a difference. They welcomed me generously and offered important guidance,” said Kelly.
As a result, housing will be a major focus for First Independence Bank in the Twin Cities. “Our innovative home loan programs will help reduce one of the largest disparities in the country between Black and white homeowners.” The branch also will offer customers ATM and debit card use at any Huntington and Wells Fargo ATM location with no ATM service fee, a loan program to help establish a credit score or repair personal credit, virtual financial education sessions, and more.
One of the leaders with whom Kelly met was Marcus Owens, executive director of the African American Leadership Forum, who began his career in financial services. “The addition of a full-service Black-owned bank will open more opportunities to build wealth, which is critical not only for the Black community but for the entire region,” he said.
Helping to bring a competitor into the market might seem counterintuitive, Laurie Nordquist, Wells Fargo’s Central lead region president, observed. “But for the five of us, the case is clear. Black households are more than five times more likely than white households to be unbanked. We need to continue our efforts for outreach and inclusion while also supporting a Black-owned bank.
“This is not an ‘either-or’ proposition—it’s a ‘both-and’ proposition. Supporting a bank like First Independence Bank, with its history and know-how, is part of the change we are collectively working to make in the financial services ecosystem,” Nordquist said.
Jeanne Crain, president, and CEO of Bremer Financial added that, as a qualified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), First Independence Bank is able to tap into a special CDFI Fund that allows for more favorable lending rates to individuals and businesses in low-income areas. And, although Black-owned businesses exist in many industry sectors in the Twin Cities, the region lacks an established, Black-owned bank. “That’s a gap that First Independence Bank is uniquely able to help fill,” Crain said.
The choice to work with First Independence Bank also was easily made, according to Michael Jones, chair of Huntington for Minnesota and Colorado. “First Independence Bank has a strong track record and Kenneth Kelly is highly regarded in the industry,” he said. “Several of our banks also already have relationships with First Independence Bank.”
Prior to its merger with Huntington, TCF and First Independence Bank had a partnership in Detroit, which continues today under the Huntington name. U.S. Bank has worked with First Independence Bank through the Federal Treasury Mentor-Protégé Program since 2019, and Wells Fargo made an equity investment earlier this year.
“The First Independence Bank branch also will be a point of pride for the entire region,” Katie Simpson, Bank of America Minneapolis/Saint Paul president said. “Of more than 5,000 banking institutions in the U.S., only 18 are Black-owned—down from 48 in 2001. Few metro areas can say that a Black-owned bank is part of their community. Now the Twin Cities will be one of them.”
—Information provided in part by First Independence Bank. Find more info by go to www.firstindependence.com.