Sunrise Banks—a Social Engine for Good

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In the Twin Cities, a community bank creates financial empowerment for all

Heaquartered in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, Sunrise Banks is indeed a bank—and a profitable one at that. Annual revenue comes in at around $100 million; assets are in excess of $1 billion.

But fully 2 percent of Sunrise’s pretax profits are earmarked for philanthropy and at least 60 percent of its loans are made to low- or moderate-income communities, where two of its four retail banking branches are located. CEO David Reiling sees Sunrise less as a bank than what he calls “a social engine for good”—one with a mission to “create financial empowerment for all.”

A case in point: In recent years, the affordable housing supply has shrunk steadily in the Twin Cities, as it has in other urban centers nationwide. Between 2011 and 2017, 8,000 new units came on the market there, but 9,000 others vanished.

“The problem just gets worse as we see affordable housing properties gobbled up and converted to high-rent apartments,” says Alan Arthur, president of Aeon, a nonprofit housing developer. In 2020, Sunrise joined forces with Aeon and three local foundations to launch a $19 million program aimed at preserving 600 units of affordable housing for low-income renters.

“Affordable housing is key to financially stable and successful communities,” Reiling says. “Sunrise felt an obligation to create this pilot model. It’s an example of what we can create when we put our heads together.”

It was 1986 when Reiling and his father William took over a pair of failing banks—one of which had been charged with discriminatory practices—and reorganized them into what would become Sunrise Banks. “To reverse course and rebuild,” The St. Paul Star Tribune reported, “the Reilings looked to those clients who had been wronged—working-class people and immigrants in urban neighborhoods. They also sought nonprofits and small businesses as clients.”

Today, Sunrise is one of only 100 U.S. banks certified by the U.S. Department of Treasury as a Community Development Financial Institution, providing credit, investment capital and banking services in distressed urban communities. It is also a certified B corporation and a member of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values. As Carpenter Group sees it, these credentials reflect a brand promise to making the world a better and more equitable place.

Through a range of innovative lending programs, Sunrise has provided underserved and underbanked families and individuals with affordable mortgages, alternatives to usorious payday loans, prepaid cards and other banking services that would otherwise be closed off to them.

During the early days of the pandemic, Sunrise maintained a presence in neighborhoods other banks largely avoided. “When the PPP [federal Payment Protection Plan] started, Sunrise was the only bank that would talk to folks who weren’t already customers,” says Chad Kulas, executive director of the Midway Chamber of Commerce in St. Paul. “A lot of our work was recognizing people’s anxiety and addressing it,” says Reiling. “’Is my business going to survive? Can I keep my employees working?’”

But Sunrise was a lifeline to small businesses and their employees since long before the COVID-19 crisis. Among the first of the working-poor residents to benefit from the Sunrise-Aeon affordable housing initiative was Santos Mejia, a maintenance technician working two jobs. “Without this program, my family would have been displaced,” he said at a press event marking the opening of the 127-unit Carrington Drive Apartments. “The stability has helped me be a good father.”

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About Brand Acts of Kindness® 

Brand Acts of Kindness® is a series from Carpenter Group that spotlights companies across industries that are living their brand values in addressing the unprecedented challenges facing the world today.

The series initially headlined companies assisting healthcare workers and first responders, as well as communities, businesses and families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We also highlight brands taking the lead in supporting social and racial justice, LGBTQ rights, sustainability and the environment. Their stories show how innovation, resolve and action, built on a solid value proposition, can both strengthen a brand and help create a better world.

About Carpenter Group

Carpenter Group is an independent, woman-owned strategic branding, messaging and marketing communications firm that has delivered results-driven solutions to financial, professional services and technology firms for 30+ years.

Our broad cross-discipline experience enables us to craft brand messaging and carry it through to the channels that most effectively connect with our clients’ target audience, from editorial content to advertising to event marketing and more.