The historic Illinois Service Federal Savings & Loan (ISF) bank located in the Bronzeville section of Chicago was on the verge of being defunct. ISF needed an immediate infusion of at least $10 million dollars to avoid a federal decree that would force it to convert from a depositor-owned model to a shareholder-owned model. The bank was on the auction block to be sold since April 2015. ISF was founded by 13 Black men in 1934 as a depositor-owned lender serving the credit-starved Bronzeville. Being one of only two Black-owned banks left in Chicago, the bank was in desperate need of saving.
That’s when P.W. Chiefy Nduom and his brother, N. Kweku Nduom, of Ghanaian investment firm Groupe Nduom saw an opportunity they couldn’t resist. According to P.W. Chiefy, the firm’s vice president and general counsel, “We were seeking to diversify and had been looking at banking in the U.S. when we came across this opportunity.” So the firm made an immediate investment of $9 million dollars to take over control of the failing bank. With its investment, Groupe Nduom became ISF’s majority shareholder.
As a conglomerate, Groupe Nduom operates businesses in Africa, Europe, and the U.S. The firm was started by Paa Kwesi Nduom, 63, who came to America as an immigrant in the 1970’s. He settled in the Milwaukee area and attended the University of Wisconsin. While at UW, Paa earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. In 1976, he married wife Yvonne and had four children. After becoming one of the first Black partners at the firm Deloitte & Touche in Milwaukee, the Nduoms decided to return to their native Ghana in 1991. That’s when they began building Groupe Nduom, which now employs over 3,000 people around the world in the financial services, hotels, media and entertainment, sports, and real estate industries.
Now having invested in ISF, the family sees their journey as having come full-circle. Speaking of how the opportunity to purchase the bank came about, N. Kweku Nduom, vice president of business development & finance at Groupe Nduom said, “A mutual friend brought ISF’s CEO to D.C. to meet with my father. I was at that meeting. He was on this mission to save the bank and raise all this money, and he was going around meeting with potential investors. It just happened to come at a very nice time, when we were also looking at opportunities. It was just sort of a courtship for a year and a half. The board was taking a look at us, and we were trying to figure out if this is the right opportunity. We all decided it was.”
As only one of two Black-owned banks in Chicago, ISF serves as “a crucial source of capital and banking services for families, local small businesses, faith-based institutions and nonprofit organizations in our neighborhoods. This marks a new chapter in the life of the bank, which will enable it to sustain the rigors of financial stress that have plagued many communities in Chicago,” said outgoing Chairman/CEO Norman Williams.
The Nduoms said they want to modernize the way the bank does business but also keep some of the aspects customers have come to expect from their community bank. Kweku Nduom said, “The mission and vision hasn’t changed at all. In terms of the way forward, there are a few priorities. We want to reach out and reassure all stakeholders, not only customers and employees but regulators and the community, that we’re here for good reasons, and it’s still a Black-owned bank.”