Founded in 1934, Illinois Service Federal Savings & Loan Association was one of the first Black-owned banks in the country, providing mortgages to African Americans during a time when white-owned banks denied Black customers opportunities. On the brink of closure in the mid-2010s, the bank was bought by Ghanaian businessman and politician Dr. Papa Kwesi Nduom in 2016. It is the last Black-owned bank in Chicago, one of only two Black-owned banks based in Illinois.
An initial $9 million investment by Ghana’s Nduom family saved the bank, headquartered in Chicago’s Bronzeville community, from failure. The Nduom family has a 5,000-employee conglomerate, Groupe Nduom, that spans mostly West Africa and the United Kingdom and includes media, hospitality and banking interests. The investment in Illinois Service Federal (ISF) Bank marked the Ndoum family’s entry into the U.S. financial services industry.
The family’s patriarch, Dr. Papa Kwesi Nduom, was born in Ghana, earned a bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and became a partner at Deloitte & Touche in Milwaukee. He and his family eventually moved to Washington, D.C., and then back to Ghana in the early 1990s. Dr. Ndoum serves as chairman of Groupe Nduom and his sons, Chiefy Nduom and Kweku Nduom oversee the family’s stake in the Chicago bank.
In 2019, the Ndoum family renamed Illinois Service Federal (ISF) Bank to GN (Groupe Ndoum) Bank, tying the Chicago bank to the international banking company owned by Papa Nduom. The rebranding was made “to reflect its owner’s global ties in an effort build trust in its future.” GN has about 300 branches worldwide, according to the company.
“It has been important to us to show people this bank will not disappear,” Dr. Nduom said. “This lets everybody know we put our resources, put our strength behind it. It’s not isolated — it’s part of a global brand.”
“Our goal is to ensure that [GN Bank] remains in this community in perpetuity,” Chiefy Nduom said in an interview.
Since the initial $9 million, the family has invested an additional $12 million into GN Bank, which had just $105 million in assets as of Sept. 30, 2020.
By November 2020, it was reported that “the bank hasn’t turned a profit since it changed hands.” Ndoum said at the time, “The fact of the matter is that GN Bank has made tremendous improvement this year and is on course to break even in January and start on a profitability path in February 2021.”
According to businessinsider.com, the Better Business Bureau gives GN Bank an A+ in trustworthiness, and the bank is recognized for having a large, free ATM network.