CHICAGO (CBS/ProPublica) – It’s a small bank located on a tree-lined street on the south side of Chicago.
GN Bank is the only bank in Illinois to be the last black-owned bank in the state. It also stands out for other reasons. Customers complain about the problems they have with the bank. Some even fear losing their homes because of the bank’s Stone Age registration system. Additionally, the bank is under a federal consent order that noted several deficiencies that need to be addressed quickly.
HOW GN BANK WAS BORN
GN Bank was formerly called Illinois Service Federal Savings and Loan (ISF). It opened in 1934, providing mortgages, home ownership assistance, and access to banking services for underserved black neighborhoods in Chicago.
But when the 2008 recession hit, many banks, including ISF, began to struggle.
On April 16, 2015, the ISF was under a federal consent order issued by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), one of the agencies responsible for regulating banks and financial institutions.
The order required the bank to develop a plan to get out of financial difficulties and to hire competent management.
A year later, ISF thought it had found its savior in the person of Dr Papa Kwesi Nduom.
Dr. Nduom was a wealthy West African who owned many businesses including a major bank in Ghana. He agreed to take control of ISF and inject $9 million into it. You can learn more about the behind-the-scenes negotiations from our investigative partner, ProPublica.
SHARON STEWART’S STORY
For more than 30 years, Sharon Stewart said her late mother, Dorothy, held a mortgage at EWB because she wanted to support the bank’s commitment to the community.
“It was a sense of pride,” she said, “They invested in the community and helped African Americans get mortgages.”
Stewart says her mother also appreciated EWB’s intimate and friendly customer service.
“She could go there and talk to them personally,” Stewart said. “She loved it. Absolutely.”
Eventually, Stewart added her name to the mortgage and continued that commitment to support what eventually became GN Bank — and eventually became Chicago’s last black bank.
She has a different feeling about the bank today.
“I’m very disappointed. I’m so disappointed in them,” Stewart said. “They take your money. They don’t do anything for you.”
Stewart told CBS 2 since GN took over, customer service has gone downhill.
“There’s no one to talk to,” she said. You can’t talk to anyone.”
She also said normal banking procedures were not followed.
“I don’t even get bank statements,” Stewart said.
Worst of all, she says, was the moment she thought she might lose her mother’s house.
“The last bank statement we received was from December 2017. And that’s when Yorke Properties came into existence,” Stewart said.
And she said that was when all the trouble with that loan started.
Stewart met with the then Vice President of Loans.
“He told me the property had been foreclosed since June 2018,” she said.
Stewart said her mother set up automatic loan payments with ISF/GN Bank.
But Stewart discovered that GN Bank had sold the mortgage to Yorke Properties, LLC. Dr. Nduom is Chairman of GN Bank. He is also listed on the books of State LLC as a director of Yorke Properties.
Stewart received a collection notice in 2021. The notice informed her that she was in default on her mother’s Yorke Properties mortgage.
She had to prove the loan was outstanding to avoid foreclosure.
Stewart began visiting GN Bank monthly to make loan repayments thereafter. She described her monthly routine: “I presented the check with the loan numbers because there are no payment coupons – nothing. So I always write [on] a piece of paper the address, my mother’s name, my name, the check number, how much I’m paying, the loan numbers they told me are the loan numbers — and I always write a statement that GN Bank does not provide annual or monthly statements or payment coupons. »
After payment was made, Stewart explained, “They’ll give me a handwritten receipt. From a financial institution – that’s my receipt. It’s like the Flintstones. That’s what I call it.”
Back to the fear of foreclosure. Stewart kept all of those handwritten receipts and canceled checks totaling $60,000 to prove to GN Bank that the loan was not in default.
She blames the bank’s president, Dr. Nduom, for all this confusion of mortgages, missing statements and outdated receipts.
“They don’t run it like a financial institution in the United States at all,” Stewart said.
MORE CUSTOMER COMPLAINTS
Stewart isn’t the only customer complaining. Every month, Robert Jansen travels 110 miles each way between his home in Marseilles and GN Bank in Bronzeville to make his mortgage payments. He’s a real estate investor – so he has a lot.
“Thanks to EWB at one point I had 18 mortgages,” Jansen said. “I’m down to 10 now.”
Jansen pays in person at the bank because he has heard stories like Stewart’s and is afraid something similar might happen to him.
“I’m afraid he’s selling these mortgages to Yorke Properties – don’t let me know,” Jansen said. “I don’t want to be sold to Yorke, because Yorke doesn’t send statements either. They just come in and seize.”
Jansen keeps every receipt he receives from the cashier to prove that “my mortgages are paid.” And like Stewart, he questions the type of receipts handed out by GN Bank, likening them to something that might come from a fast food joint.
“Since they changed the system to a new system that gives you these Burger King coupons, that’s your payment history,” Jansen said.
Stewart reported his issues with GN Bank to the CCO. A public records request from ProPublica found that numerous other customers filed complaints between 2016 and 2021.
We have received over 20 instances where dissatisfied customers have complained to various federal banking regulators about issues with GN Bank, including the bank’s handling of mortgages, handling of other accounts, and poor customer service.
In some cases, the OCC has responded by saying that it “does not have the judicial power to interpret or enforce private contractual agreements.” In other cases, the OCC has advised customers to raise their concerns with other state or federal agencies or to sue GN Bank.
GN Bank, while not particularly sensitive to its own customers, responded most of the time when the OCC followed up on customer complaints and asked the bank to respond.
The OCC has another interest in GN Bank. This relates to the last consent order she made on September 17, 2020.
Jeremy Kress is an assistant professor of business law at the University of Michigan. He is also co-faculty director of the school’s Center on Finance, Law & Policy and a former Federal Reserve regulator.
Based on the consent order from 2015 and now this news, Kress said: “This suggests that GN Bank is quite far from having very significant issues that its senior supervisor has been encouraging the bank to address for some time. time.”
The 2020 consent order cites old concerns “about the quality of loans on its books,” said Kress, who reviewed the documents at our request.
The 2020 Consent Order specifically calls out the management of GN Bank since it took over ISF. It says: ‘The board and management have failed to correct unsafe or unsound practices previously identified.’
The order also cites new requirements, including that the board adopt, implement and comply with a conflict of interest policy.
CBS 2 investigators met with OCC regulators when they arrived at GN Bank for a scheduled taping session earlier this year. They didn’t want to talk to us.
“Regulators are concerned that the bank is not being run as well as they think it is,” Kress said.
He added that it is rare for a consent order to be made public, and even rarer for a bank to have consecutive orders issued.
THE FUTURE OF GN BANK
So what’s the next step?
“In order to address the regulator’s concerns that are identified in the consent order, GN Bank must improve its management,” Kress said. “It could mean that current management improves the systems they have in place. It could mean hiring new managers, managers who have had success at other minority depository institutions, or more traditional depository institutions” ,
Kress reviewed publicly available financial asset data for GN Bank. He said it seemed to be on solid ground at the moment, despite the consent order.
“There is some level of oversight discretion that the OCC may have used here to try to help GN Bank rehabilitate and resume safe and sound operations,” he said.
GN Bank is the last black-owned bank in Chicago. It is also the last black-owned bank in the state and one of 19 black-owned banks in the entire United States.
Jansen and Stewart may be unhappy with the bank’s practices, but the last thing they want is for GN Bank to close.
“I want to see the bank succeed,” Jansen said.
“Of course we want this bank to be successful,” Stewart said. “It’s historic.”
CBS 2 investigators asked to sit down with Dr. Nduom to discuss the clients’ concerns and the consent order. GN Bank’s attorney sent the following statement instead:
As the only black-owned bank in Illinois, we are proud to have invested resources to serve the community and that is and will continue to be our priority at GN Bank.
Dr. Papa Kwesi Nduom
Previously, the bank sent a longer response to ProPublica in November 2021: