Detroit-based First Independence Bank Marks 51 Years by Expanding to Twin Cities

First Independence Bank Chairman and CEO Kenneth Kelly

More than 50 years ago, the same quest for equity of opportunity that led to the establishment of Detroit-headquartered First Independence Bank, following the city’s 1967 rebellion, is now ushering in the opportunity for expansion into a region that was recently rocked by racially based calls for justice.

In the late 1960s, two-dozen of Detroit’s prominent African-American business and community leaders pushed for tangible change, to address the lack of opportunity and frustration that had recently boiled over into the streets of the city. In May 1970, their organized action resulted in the opening of First Independence Bank.

Today there are three branches in metro Detroit and First Independence – one of only 18 full-service Black-owned banks in the country – also ranks as the 7 th largest African American led financial institution in the U.S. First Independence Bank has now filed an application to open a branch in the Twin Cities. Five banks in that market — Bank of America, Bremer Bank, TCF (now 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 a solid start and long-term success.

This support is part of a range of investments that is helping to address the calls for racial reckoning upon the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. That May 25, 2020 event was a moment that riveted the world on the realities of racism and sharpened the focus of the business community on the realities of Black exclusion from full participation.

“We are thrilled to be working with these five banks to open a branch in the region,” First Independence Bank Chairman and CEO Kenneth 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.”

For First Independence Bank, the Twin Cities branch will be the 51-year-old enterprise’s first outside of its home state of Michigan. It will be located at 3430 University Ave. SE 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.

Tim Welsh, vice chair, U.S. Bank consumer and business banking, said, “Each of our companies has doubled down on investments in racial equity within our own organizations and the communities we serve over the past year.”

He added that, “The events of that year also showed us the value of thinking and acting differently. So, we asked ourselves what could we do, working together, beyond what we were doing on our own?

Helping to support an established, Black-owned bank’s expansion into this region rose to the top of the list.” “We are fortunate to find a site on a major thoroughfare, making it accessible to the large crosssection of residents and businesses that a bank needs to be economically viable,” 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-thru for added convenience, and space to host education sessions and community gatherings.

The branch is expected to open in early November, and Kelly was pleased to announce that 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 underresourced 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.” First Independence will offer customers fee-free ATM and debit card use at any Huntington or Wells Fargo ATM location, a loan program to help establish a credit score or repair personal credit, virtual financial education sessions, and more. Banks 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.” 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, Bank of America provided a low-cost deposit to expand lending and made an equity investment in First Independence Bank in September 2020, 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,” said Katie Simpson, Bank of America Minneapolis/Saint Paul president. “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.”

In addition to today’s announcement, Bank of America provided a low-cost deposit to expand lending and made an equity investment in First Independence Bank in 2020. A second location at Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue in Minneapolis is possible in the future, Kelly noted.

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