Jess Levin, president, chairman, and chief executive officer of the Bank of Elmwood in Racine, Wis., calls his independent, owner-managed bank a dinosaur of sorts. "It's a friendly neighborhood institution that's having a transforming effect on people's lives," he says.

Mr. Levin finds meaning in his work by investing in his community. Recently, Mr. Levin's bank offered special mortgages to first-time homebuyers with good credit ratings. The plan allows them to borrow 100% of the price of a house to a maximum of $75,000, and to build 20% equity in two years. Borrowers pay just 2% interest on their mortgages for the first two years, with the rest of the monthly payment going toward equity.

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