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Latest deal pushes NorthWest Indiana over $1B, into Illinois

NorthWest Indiana Bancorp is crossing the $1 billion asset threshold, and state lines, to broaden its presence in a thriving nearby market, the company's chief executive said.

The Munster, Ind.-based company announced Feb. 21 it is acquiring Orland Park, Ill.-based First Personal Financial Corp. in a deal valued at about $15.6 million. First Personal Bank will merge into NorthWest Indiana's subsidiary Peoples Bank SB, tacking on three branch locations in Illinois, and giving the combined company about $1.1 billion in total assets.

Benjamin Bochnowski, NorthWest's president and CEO, said the deal helps achieve NorthWest's strategic goal of competing along the I-80 economic corridor. He said First Personal's location in "south suburban Chicagoland" is a natural extension, since the company already has a significant customer base in the area.

"We are a state-chartered bank, and we realized we had an increasing number of our customers in the Illinois market, and we were servicing them from Indiana," he said in an interview. "And strategically, we were saying to ourselves, 'What's the next move?'"

He called Indiana a "pretty competitive and pretty consolidated" banking market. Bochnowski said the company realized it had a "natural market right next door."

He said any future transactions would likely be located in similar, nearby markets within a 30-mile radius.

For now, he said the company is focusing on growing organically. He said the scale that comes with crossing the $1 billion threshold "doesn't hurt," and will allow the combined company to better serve its communities.

"If you look back over the last five years, well over half of our growth came organically, even though we did two acquisitions," Bochnowski said. "... That said, we've obviously been able to show that we can successfully acquire and integrate banks."

NorthWest has completed two in-state, small bank deals since 2014. Bochnowski called Northwest's latest deal a continuation of its "disciplined" growth strategy.

"We're looking for what makes sense strategically, what makes sense culturally, and what makes sense financially," he added. "I'm not going to tell you the next one is going to be tomorrow, but I will tell you that we will take a serious look when all those conditions are met."