CHATHAM — Seaway Bank and Trust Company customers said they are elated to learn that the bank will not be closed or sold and will remain black-owned.
Speculation about Seaway's future started in Chatham after a Feb. 13 Crain's Chicago Business article detailing the bank's rough 2013 fiscal year.
"I had heard it was on the auction block and would be sold to the highest bidder," said Michelle Hart, a 56-year-old Chatham resident. "That bank has been around here for years. It would have been a shame to see it go."
Some Seaway Bank customers said if the bank is ever sold they would close their accounts.
"I became a customer in 2008 solely because I thought it was important for me to patronize more black-owned businesses," Jewel Younge said. "It defeats the purpose of banking at Seaway if I were to continue doing business with them if they were no longer black-owned."
Marilyn Mitchell, 74, said Seaway Bank is the only bank she has ever used.
"When I walk through the door the employees know me and treat me like family. Seaway is a community bank for Chatham residents and for black folks," Mitchell said. "I like that Seaway is black-owned."
A sense of pride is why so many Seaway customers want the bank to stay black-owned, said 75-year-old Chatham resident Joseph Williams.
"We only have two black banks left, so if we lose the biggest one, that would be devastating," said Williams, who recently opened an account at Seaway. "For some black businesses, Seaway is the only bank willing to lend them money. Without Seaway's help many black businesses would have a hard time surviving."
Melinda Kelly, executive director of the Chatham Business Association, said she is not surprised that many residents and Seaway Bank customers emphasized how important it is for the bank to stay open and remain black-owned.
"Seaway is a historical staple in the community," Kelly said. "It has that family feel to it and has always been an important part of Chatham."
Officials with Seaway Bank, 645 E. 87th St., said customers should know that while it suffered financial losses of $4.4 million in 2013, there are no plans to close or sell the city's largest black-owned bank.
"Seaway is not for sale, nor has there been any discussion about selling the bank," said Walter Grady, president and CEO of Seaway. "I really hate that there is a perception that we are considering selling because of a bad year. Every business has a bad year eventually."
According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Seaway Bank, founded in 1965, had $551.6 million in total assets as of Dec. 31, compared to the city's other black-owned bank, Illinois Service Federal Savings and Loan Association in Bronzeville, which had $117.6 million in the same period.
Seaway Bank's losses last year were due largely to its acquisition of a bank in west suburban Maywood and another bank in Milwaukee, Grady said.
In fact, Grady said not only is the bank not up for sale but it plans to expand by opening a new branch this year. He declined to give details about the new branch.
And Grady has one prediction about the bank's future.
"I am confident the bank will remain black-owned," he said. "We are committed to remaining black."