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Stearns Bank, Skalicky Collaborate On OCC's Project REACh

Aug 18, 2021
Posted by: Stearns Bank
Project Reach OCC

Note: This article is being re-published by Stearns Bank with permission from the OCC and Project REACh. It was originally published on in the Project REACH anniversary newsletter.


After joining OCC MDI collaboration meetings, Stearns Bank President and Chief Executive Officer Kelly Skalicky formed bank partnerships that have delivered unexpected benefits to her St. Cloud (Minnesota) based bank.

“It’s been fascinating,” she said. “The more you partner with other banks, the more you learn partnerships can be mutually beneficial.”

First, by partnering with Bank of Whittier, an MDI based in Whittier, Calif., Stearns Bank received new business opportunities and learned how to better serve growing minority communities in Minnesota.

“We have been trying over the past few years to provide more banking services, including non-interest-bearing financing, to the growing Somali and East African communities in St. Cloud and throughout Minnesota,” she said.

The Stearns Bank team was closely guided in this effort by Dr. Yahia Abdul-Rahman, Bank of Whittier’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, who is well versed in Islamic banking and finance issues.

“It was an amazing learning opportunity for us,” Skalicky said, and one of several information exchanges by the partnership. Stearns Bank also shared with Bank of Whittier interest-free home loan requests and material on its U.S. Small Business Administration training and lending.

Bank of Whittier sent Stearns Bank several large culturally-compliant commercial opportunities, and the two banks are discussing other information exchanges and possible loan participations.

A second partnership was formed after Skalicky heard Dr. Jody Lee, Southwestern National Bank’s Board Chairwoman, suggest during an OCC MDI Advisory Committee meeting collaborating with Texas Southern University’s (TSU) Future Bankers Leadership Program.

“Brilliant, I thought, so I called Jody right away,” Skalicky said. “MDIs told us recruiting talent was difficult; we have a hard time recruiting a diverse population of workers, and we are missing out on a lot of talent at TSU and other historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU).”

The result: Stearns Bank and Houston-based Southwestern Bank plan to recruit on HBCU campuses for full-time employees and with TSU Future Bankers students for a shared, eight-week summer paid banking internship program.

She envisions interns spending four weeks with Stearns Bank and four weeks with Southwestern, and eventually, other banks doing likewise as they seek to build the diverse workforce needed to reach and expand financial inclusion in minority communities across the nation.

“I believe in Project REACh’s mission, and in MDIs as an essential part of our banking system,” Skalicky said. “As banks, none of us can do everything needed to serve minority communities, so we have to do a good job of partnering together so we can serve customers better.”