Concord, New Hampshire-based Walden Mutual Bank, the first mutual bank to launch in the U.S. in 50 years, was approved for deposit insurance by the FDIC, the firm announced Wednesday, paving the way for an official opening in the coming weeks.
The sustainable farm and food-focused digital bank aims to serve the New York and New England agriculture market by providing loans to farmers.
On the deposit side, the bank intends to cater to “farmers’ market shoppers,” people engaged in the local food movement and who are looking for a sustainably focused financial institution to hold their money, said Charley Cummings, Walden Mutual’s president and CEO.
“We're trying to build a more inclusive, more sustainable and a more local food system here in the region, and a bank is sort of a means to that end,” he said. “The mutual structure truly allows us to focus on all of the impact metrics associated with that vision.”
Mutual banks are owned by depositors, not shareholders — a status Cummings said aligns with Walden Mutual’s mission to serve the interests of the local community.
Through lending, Walden Mutual is targeting the entire farm ecosystem, which Cummings said includes production farms, manufacturers, value-added processors, distributors and consumer brands, among others.
Walden Mutual is underwriting a loan for a dog treat company that recycles food waste from local farms and fisheries, said Cummings, whose career background is outside the finance world.
Cummings worked for a clean-energy nonprofit before launching the farm-to-table meat delivery company Walden Local in 2013.
“In building the supply chain of that business, it became clear there were some real gaps in the existing lending infrastructure,” said Cummings, who stepped down as CEO of Walden Local in January 2021 to pursue the bank venture.
Through Walden Mutual, Cummings said he hopes the de novo can offer environmentally conscious consumers a banking option that aligns with their values.
“Where you bank really matters from an impact perspective. There's a whole generation of people that are applying rigorous standards on brands that they want to be associated with and every other consumer category from cleaning products, to clothing, to food. And yet, we don't do that to our banks,” he said.
While primarily digital, the bank will operate one physical location in Concord that won’t have cash services. The space, Cummings said, resembles an agricultural museum, celebrating various elements of New England agriculture.
“Our intention is to be primarily or entirely a digital institution, but we felt like having a physical location in this era of ephemeral e-commerce brands was really important to ground us in the region and inspire confidence in the institution,” he said.
Walden Mutual has raised $24 million from more than 230 community investors, Cummings said.