First Federal Bank donating branch to La Casa de Esperanza

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Waukesha-based First Federal Bank of Wisconsin plans to vacate its branch office at 134 Wisconsin Ave. in Waukesha and donate it to nonprofit La Casa de Esperanza.

First Federal Bank of Wisconsin
Dave Rosenwald and Edward Schaefer of First Federal Bank of Wisconsin with Anselmo Villarreal and Marcos Ramous of La Casa de Esperanza at the donated Waukesha branch.

The donation of the downtown Waukesha space will occur July 1.

First Federal has been using the 4,000-square-foot Wisconsin Avenue branch, built in the 1950s, mostly for administrative offices for the past several years.

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“It was an operations branch for us, basically,” said Edward Schaefer, president and chief executive officer of First Federal. “It was not a full-service branch location.”

First Federal will move eight of its 11 employees at the Wisconsin Avenue branch to a newly leased 2,000-square-foot space at 1601 E. Racine Ave., next to the other half of the bank’s administrative operations at its headquarters, 1617 E. Racine Ave. in Waukesha. The other three employees, including Schaefer, will move to First Federal’s Brookfield branch.

The community bank, founded in 1922, also has a branch at 1801 Summit Ave. in Waukesha and a branch in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood. First Federal owns all its branches, and recently leased out the second floor of its Brookfield office to a technology firm. Schafer said the new Waukesha space, on which it has a three-year lease, is a short-term solution, and the bank will evaluate its footprint over the next three years.

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“Over the next couple years, we’re going to see how we can coordinate (combining administrative operations) based on growth,” Schaefer said. “We’re going to potentially be looking at another branch with administration attached to it, but for the next three years, we’re going to stay put.”

“In Waukesha, we had three branches that were all within two to three miles of each other,” he said. “That does not mean that I wouldn’t do a de novo branch or look at an acquisition of an existing branch from somebody. Our goal is to profitably grow.”

First Federal, which has 45 total employees, had assets of about $242 million as of Dec. 31. Net income was $171 million in 2016, down from $978 million in 2015, driven by a higher provision for loan losses in 2016. The lower profit did not factor into First Federal’s decision to consolidate its operations, Schaefer said.

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“We pushed up our reserves for loan loss and it was purely a plan to make our balance sheet stronger,” Schaefer said.

He said First Federal decided to donate the branch to La Casa because the nonprofit was bursting at the seams and the bank has close ties to the organization. David Rosenwald, senior vice president of lending at First Federal, is a member of the La Casa de Esperanza board of directors.

Founded in 1966, La Casa de Esperanza provides educational, workforce development, nutrition, weatherization and housing services to more than 20,000 residents in Waukesha, Milwaukee and Jefferson counties. It targets the Hispanic population, with a mission of providing opportunities to achieve full social and economic participation in society.

With the new space, the organization plans to expand its Center for Financial Stability, which helps low-income individuals work toward economic self-sufficiency through employment training, financial education and counseling, and free tax assistance.

“This is a great opportunity to help La Casa grow their Center for Financial Stability and is a perfect way for us to support our local community and pay it forward to members of the community that need it most,” Schaefer said.

La Casa plans to remodel some parts of the building and then open the new Center for Financial Stability in early August. The organization will retain its headquarters at 410 Arcadian Ave. in Waukesha.

“We’re honored to accept this gift from First Federal Bank,” said Anselmo Villarreal, president and CEO of La Casa. “This is a tremendous opportunity to expand financial literacy in Waukesha. This new location will help us grow our free tax assistance program substantially next year.”

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