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Case Study: Urban Partnership Bank

Updated: Nov 5, 2021

The Challenge: Maintaining confidentiality and managing community concerns during a sensitive acquisition.

Established in 2010, Urban Partnership Bank is a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)-insured, full-service community bank with locations in the Chicago metro area, along with one branch located in Detroit, Michigan.

Urban Partnership Bank formed when ShoreBank, another Chicago-based community bank predominately serving Chicago’s South Side, went out of business. At ShoreBank’s dissolution, Urban Partnership Bank formed to acquire its deposits and much of its leadership — and took over the earlier institution’s place as one of the most prominent, well-known, and community-focused financial institutions on the city’s South Side, a section of the city known for its varied ethnic composition, income disparity, and high levels of crime.

Years later, Urban Partnership Bank was looking at another acquisition — this time as the institution being acquired. Urban Partnership Bank was being acquired by Providence Bank & Trust, which was based in the Chicago suburbs and relatively unknown in the city. Given the sensitive nature of the acquisition, Urban Partnership Bank and Providence Bank & Trust needed to prepare an announcement and transition roll-out plan that prepared for a scenario in which the announcement would be met with contention, particularly given the cultural and community impact. With an increasingly politicized environment in Chicago driven by racial tension and economic inequality, Providence Bank & Trust needed to implement a comprehensive issues management and communications plan that would ensure a smooth transition.

The Solution: Communicate honestly, strategically, and effectively.

With extensive experience in community affairs and issues management, Hawthorne Strategy Group was brought on board to develop and manage the communications strategy surrounding the announcement of the acquisition that included a variety of audiences – from shareholders to customers to employees — and, in some cases, prominent individuals that were more than one of those entities. Given the complexities of the situation, the news would have to be uniquely communicated to each audience in a way that would minimize concern or opposition.

Key elements of the announcement included:

  • Outreach to multiple different audiences — including employees, stakeholders, and customers — to inform them of the acquisition over a very condensed period of time

  • Navigating and managing the process of crafting language, materials, and a strategy that fit the needs and style of both Urban Partnership Bank and Providence Bank & Trust

  • Managing risk factors and preparing for the possibility of news of the acquisition leaking prior to the official announcement

  • Part of the challenge was finding a way to stagger the announcement so it could be delivered appropriately to all audiences in a timely manner without causing concern. Key considerations and tactics that became part of the strategy included:

  • Crafting messages that conveyed a thoughtful, sensitive tone given the unusually politicized nature of the acquisition

  • Informing key stakeholders of the news prior to the official announcement in order to leverage their influence within the community

  • Targeting two journalists at influential Chicago publications to give the announcement under embargo in advance of the announcement, allowing them enough lead time to write thorough, meaningful stories

  • Setting up evening calls with all branches and staffing call centers the week of the announcement to keep a real-time appraisal on the reactions from employees, customers, and other stakeholders as the news broke

The Results: Positive sentiment across the board.

Beyond a small shift in the announcement timing to accommodate two unexpected major political announcements, the announcement of the acquisition went off without a hitch.

The initial results following the official announcement of the acquisition were extremely positive. They included:

  • Stories in The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, and Crain’s Chicago Business. All coverage of the acquisition had a positive tone and 100% message pull through

  • No immediate employee attrition

  • Receptive reactions from important shareholders, such as Jesse Jackson, who was also an Urban Partnership Bank customer

  • No widespread outcry or concern within the community or among customers, including conversations on social media

  • Key messages were echoed by members of the public. For example, one tweet from a community member read, Great news for the south side economy when banks show interest


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