Community development banking strengthens businesses, improves neighborhoods, creates jobs, and increases wealth. Discerning the benefits of such banking, Sunrise Banks was established in 1986. After honing banking skills in inner city LA, the company’s CEO, David Reiling passed on a high-profile promotion with CitiBank to come back to MN, his home state, and purchase the first of the banks that would become Sunrise with his father, Bill Reiling. The idea was a long shot; they would purchase an unsuccessful bank, in a low-income neighborhood with struggling businesses and work with the community.
The bank’s success hinged on the success of the community, if the community succeeded, the bank would thrive. From the beginning Sunrise has been more of a social enterprise than a traditional bank and the close ties with its customers have remained even while growing to a nationally chartered organization. Listening to customers and meeting them where they are, make it possible to maintain personal connections as banking and business are increasingly detached. The founding focus for Sunrise still remains to this day; empowering communities through business growth and job creation to stimulate financial wellness. When the bank does well, Sunrise is able to do a lot of good for the community.
Early in the bank’s lifecycle, David noticed that even with Sunrise’s branches in the customers’ neighborhood, many customers were using check cashers and taking out payday loans with huge interest rates. He wanted to get to the root of the problem, so he purchased a local check casher to get a look at their books and see first-hand how they operated. Drawing from what he learned, Sunrise Banks offered similar services in its branches, and still people didn’t come in. From here the company realized the need to meet customers where they are; these customers didn’t want the fancy bank lobbies, they wanted something familiar. To find a solution, bank looked to the fintech sector for a partner to collaborate with to break the predatory fees associated with payday lending and cash checkers, without making customers come into one of its branches. The partner became, Employee Loan Solutions who offered a product called TrueConnect.
TrueConnect is a safe alternative to payday loans and rather than come into a bank, people apply for the loan through their employer. It gives many people a way to take control of their financial wellness where they are and on their own time, without having to involve a bank directly. Sunrise Banks is able to service all TrueConnect loans and take care of the behind the scenes systems and processes, taking the bank lobby out of the equation. By moving away from the center stage and working behind the scenes, Sunrise is able to serve the needs of many people who may not trust banks and otherwise would fall victim to the cycle of debt that comes with payday lending.
Sunrise’s employees were the beta test users of TrueConnect. After publicly launching the product, it grew very quickly and continues to do so to this day. Partners that had worked with Sunrise before on other projects were some of the first companies to offer the benefit to their employees. Now, TrueConnect is offered by over 2,500 companies across the country serving more than 100,000 employees. It wasn’t automatic, just as it does with any product Sunrise tested and monitored, adjusting various parts of the process to make sure it was exactly right and it fit what the customers wanted. Not only did it have to be quick and simple, there were risk management and regulatory challenges that needed to be juggled. The balance of providing an excellent customer experience while meeting regulatory needs is where Sunrise skills shine and its fintech partnerships thrive.
In the initial years, Sunrise faced challenges with focus and physical locations. People in the Midwest are traditionally very risk-averse and look more for proven solutions than the next big thing; and while there is a strong entrepreneurial spirit in the Midwest, there aren’t as many sources for investors as in larger markets. Thankfully that has shifted dramatically since the bank’s start. Minneapolis/St Paul is now thriving with successful technology startups and entrepreneurs with a passion to make a difference. Additionally, without the large venture backing that some organizations have, Sunrise had to face the challenge of focus. Simply put Sunrise didn’t have the ability to swing the bat as much as it wanted, and had to be very intentional with innovative in the beginning and make sure it was moving in the right direction. As a socially responsible bank, it took longer to find partnerships with values-aligned organizations, but once the firm found those partners, things were able to move smoothly and grow very quickly.
Currently Sunrise Banks has around 220 employees. Each area of the organization function almost as separate businesses, which allow for the bank to be agile and collaborative. Each department knows their area well and are very passionate about it. When it comes time for a project that reaches across departments, these teams make collaboration hugely successful. Sunrise can collect a concentrated team of industry experts on various topics all from its internal structure. New ideas can be prototyped and fleshed out quickly and efficiently allowing them to roll out new products and services ahead of bigger and less nimble organizations.
The coming years are very exciting for Sunrise, they are continuing to build partnerships, especially with fintech companies, that allow the company to serve customers’ needs where they are and when they are available, moving away from the traditional banker’s hours. They plan to use internal systems that are already in place to refine and adapt to the future of banking and business. Through their partnerships they plan to become a resource and curate the best socially-responsible fintech companies and solutions, paving the way for others to continue to push the envelope with them. The company made investments in its infrastructure to promote continuing agility and innovation to revolutionize the customer experience associated with banking. The next few years hold a lot of changes to its industry but the company is excited and energized to face them head on.
Shake hands with the CEO
David Reiling is a social entrepreneur, who is an innovator in community development finance and financial inclusion. He is the Chief Executive Officer of Sunrise Banks and has been in the community development banking industry for more than 25 years. Under David’s leadership, Sunrise Banks became the first Minnesota bank certified as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), a certified B-Corp, a legal Benefit Corporation, and a member of the Global Alliance of Banking on Values.
Empowering Financial Wellness. As a place-based community development bank, it serves the urban core of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. As a people-focused financial institution, Sunrise partners with values-aligned financial technology firms to provide better access to convenient, easy-to-use, and fairly-priced financial services globally.
"The balance of providing an excellent customer experience while meeting regulatory needs is where Sunrise skills shine and its fintech partnerships thrive.”
"All of the business lines are not only held to financial sustainability goals, but also demonstrate progress in achieving positive social impact."