Walden Mutual Bank on Main Street set to open

By DAVID BROOKS

Monitor staff

Published: 10-11-2022 7:46 PM

The country’s first new mutual bank in a half-century has received final approval and will be opening the doors of its Concord office soon, with full service for the general public coming later this fall.

Walden Mutual Bank, which labels itself as a sustainable farm and food-focused digital bank, announced this week it has received full approval from both the FDIC and New Hampshire State Banking Department, a process that took longer than anticipated.

“It exceeded our expectations as to how long that would take from start to finish,” said founder Charley Cummings, who noted that the novelty of dealing with a new mutual bank slowed regulators. “From the business perspective, regulatory delay actually helped us. We could continue to develop the loan pipeline and build the market for the bank.”

The bank is recruiting what it calls “founding partners” as the first 500 depositors, offering some perks, including $100 to spend on local farms or farm stands plus an invitation to use and beta-test the app. In a few weeks, it will open its doors to any depositor.

The office at 66 Main St. will perform many of the functions of a traditional bank branch but not all. Notably, there will be no cash changing hands. It won’t have an ATM, at least not initially.

“We are primarily a digital bank with a mobile application. … We thought it was important to have a physical retail presence in this age of ephemeral e-commerce brands,” said Cummings. “There will be a receptionist. You’ll be able to get a cashier’s check, make a deposit, open an account – but you can also do all of those things on the mobile app.”

Mutual banks are similar to credit unions in that they are owned by members rather than investors, the biggest difference being that banks can offer FDIC-insured accounts. Getting that FDIC insurance was the last step before opening.

Cummings is best known for founding Walden Local in Massachusetts in 2013 to deliver beef and other local farm products to homes, a business that made him realize that loans and financial help given by banks didn’t serve small farms. That led to the creation of Walden Bank, which will focus lending on the “local food ecosystem” in New York and New England.

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Cummings said founders decided to create a mutual bank because control by members in the agriculture industry makes it easier to do such things as adjust loan payments to fit harvesting patterns.

The bank said it has exceeded its initial funding goal of $20 million, raising $24 million from “over 230 community investors,” allowing it to reach capital requirements for new banks.

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