Fennville turns to Fed in fight to keep last bank

Chemical Bank says more customers are choosing online options over local branches

Chemical Bank, Fennville
The Chemical Bank branch in Fennville. (Oct. 17, 2017)

FENNVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — What happens when you can no longer take it to the bank? People in Fennville will find out when the town’s last bank closes later this year.

Linda Barnes was born and raised in Fennville. She now owns a restaurant inside what used to be a bank.

“As a child, we would come in here and my walk-in (freezer) would be the vault where all the money would be kept,” Barnes said.

The town used to have two banks. One closed a few years ago, leaving only Chemical Bank. Then last month, Chemical Bank announced its Fennville branch would close Dec. 15.

“Fennville’s always had a bank, so it’s really hard to see us not having a bank,” Barnes said.

“It came as a shock to all of us, because they had done some remodeling inside and new signage and everything, so we thought things were good for their location,” Fennville Mayor Thomas Pantelleria said.

Pantelleria met with Chemical Bank representatives to try to change their minds with no success. He then filed a complaint with the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, claiming the bank was in violation of the Community Reinvestment Act. He says the act encourages banks to invest in poor and moderate-income communities.

“With a lot of branches now moving out, I kind of took that as a discriminatory practice,” Pantelleria said.

Chemical Bank Chief Financial Officer Dennis Klaeser told 24 Hour News 8 the company’s decision to close Fennville’s branch is not a reflection that Chemical Bank is in financial trouble. Rather, it means more people are moving to online banking. Just like retailers are losing shoppers to online sellers, he says, banks are losing foot traffic to online banking.

“It’s a sign of the times for the banking industry,” Pantelleria agreed. “In fact, if you have a bank in your small town, take a good look, because you’re next. They’ll be leaving you, too.”

Pantellaria said Chemical Bank will put a restriction on the deed when it sells the bank branch, prohibiting another company from opening a bank or credit union.

“We have everything a city has — police, fire, ambulance and so forth — but we won’t have a bank,” he said.

The town should hear about its complaint within the next couple of months.