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.

Mr. Levin said his bank was forgoing interest income in the short run to offer programs that will benefit the community. "I know that the 100% mortgages are changing people's lives," said Mr. Levin.

"One of my branch managers told me that a client of hers, who was once on welfare, had pulled herself up and become a nurse. But she was still unable to own her own home. She was so overjoyed with our program that she was crying. When you hear of this type of impact, you feel good in your heart."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.