Bay Bank has gone where no bank has gone before: the Menominee Indian Reservation.
The 25-year-old bank is owned by the Oneida Nation and recently opened a 2,200-square-foot branch in Keshena. It’s the first branch outside Brown County for the bank, which is one of only 17 Native American-owned banks in the country.
“Before the pandemic, it was something we felt we were ready to pursue,” says Bay Bank Vice President Nathan King, himself a member of the Oneida Nation.
“As an Oneida tribal member, it gives you a sense of pride,” King says of the partnership with the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin. “We feel comfortable with where we’re at and can move forward with the partnership, (even though) the pandemic slowed down the construction a bit.”
The new branch opened in January and is located off Highways 47/55 in the Standing Pines Convenience Store complex, which was developed by Wolf River Development Co. The FDIC-insured bank fills about one-third of the building, which also houses a gas station and convenience store.
“It serves a lot of needs,” King says.
Bay Bank was founded in 1995 by the Oneida Nation and a group of local business leaders, with the Oneidas becoming sole owners in 2000. Its locally focused mission remained the same, but the bank began offering more federally funded programs to assist tribal members. It also developed mortgage and entrepreneurial programs to assist Oneidas in obtaining housing and starting business ventures.
With two locations in Green Bay, Bay Bank has assets over $120 million and more than three dozen employees. It is the only greater Green Bay bank to offer the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Section 184 Indian Home Loan Guarantee Program.
According to the Native American Financial Services Association, banks such as Bay Bank provide a critical lifeline to traditionally underbanked Native American communities, often located in what are considered credit deserts. For instance, those living in areas with few financial institutions are 20 percent more likely to lack a credit score and experience higher delinquency rates on average.
King says the bank is “making a commitment to hiring from the Menominee community” and already has hired three tribal members. “(Customers) like to see people they know from the community. We’re not only bringing financial services. We’re helping with job creation and economic development.”
Gunnar Peters, tribal chairman, Menominee Tribal Legislature, says the bank is a welcome addition to the community.
“I cannot overstate the importance of having Bay Bank open a branch here on the Menominee Indian Reservation,” he says. “Having any bank open here would have been a good thing, but having a tribally owned bank that understands our members, understands native-owned businesses, like our logging contractor, and is capable of providing the unique banking services our tribal government requires is a major success for our community.”
The Menominee Tribal Legislature and tribal administrator worked closely with Bay Bank President and CEO Jeff Bowman to bring the branch to fruition, Peters says. “I am confident affordable and accessible financial services in our community will help us improve the economic standing of our tribal members.”