B Corp: Sunrise Banks

B Corp: Sunrise Banks

Never in anyone’s memory was a banking relationship more crucial than during Covid, when banks were the conduit between a business and its life preserver. But in the panic-driven days of early Covid, getting your small business banker on the phone was not always easy, and if you didn’t have one—well, best wishes.  

It was a cataclysm built for a community-minded bank, and fortunately the Twin Cities had one. St. Paul-based Sunrise Bank bills itself as “The World’s Most Socially Responsible Bank,” and though there’s no way to verify that, CEO and majority shareholder David Reiling makes a good case.  

Designated a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) for 20 years now, Sunrise donates 2% of its pretax profits each year to philanthropic organizations and makes at least 60 percent of its loans to low- or moderate-income communities. Sunrise is the only CDFI in the Minneapolis Federal Reserve District. Its mission today is innovating to provide capital to low-income communities, or what Reiling calls “fintech for good.” Since 2018, the bank has doubled its asset size.  

In the early days of Covid, many banks pulled up the drawbridges, tightened lending criteria, and became generally conservative. Sunrise took a different approach. “When the [federal Payment Protection Plan] started, they were the only bank that would talk to folks who weren’t already customers,” explains Chad Kulas, executive director of the Midway Chamber of Commerce.  

Kulas describes Sunrise as integrated into the Midway community, present at events the chamber hosts, on boards of neighborhood organizations, and ready to finance neighborhood ventures. Where the bank genuinely shined was as a provider of lifelines in the pandemic.  

“A lot of engagement was needed in the PPP process, which made it complicated,” recalls Reiling. “We hosted a series of webinars and created an automated process in just eight days. [The government’s approach of] using banks as a distribution channel to support small business was quite brilliant.” 

And despite the need for automation and an influx of many new customers at a time when the bank’s staff was operating under pandemic protocols, there was much hand-holding as well. “A lot of our work was recognizing people’s anxiety and addressing it,” he says. “ ‘Is my business going to survive, can I keep my employees working?’ ” 

An unfortunate side effect of most Covid aid programs was rampant fraud totaling in the billions. Reiling is proud that Sunrise’s engagement-driven approach allowed the bank to identify and weed out half its applicants as fraudulent, saving taxpayers millions. 

Sunrise was founded in 1984 by Reiling’s father, Bill, as Franklin National Bank, serving the Phillips and Whittier neighborhoods of Minneapolis. Although it was always a community-minded enterprise, David Reiling codified it with the bank’s change in status to a CDFI. He describes Sunrise’s business clientele today as “the bottom of the pyramid,” meaning the broadest subset of business—and, by implication, its foundation.

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