John Calk considers himself a corporate brat. The Chairman and CEO of The Federal Savings bank grew up all over the world, but in 8th grade his family settled in Lincolnshire, where Calk attended Stevenson High School. The experience living in distant countries would leave a deep imprint on his life.
“Because of living abroad a big chunk of my life as a young man, I had a super high level of patriotism. I was very, very proud to be an American,” Calk says. “Unusually for people in the Lake Forest/Lincolnshire area, I made the decision to apply to join the Army to pay for college. I didn’t apply to West Point. I wasn’t interested in that, but I did apply and receive a congressional scholarship which is a full ride to any college you can get in to.”
Calk attended the Indiana University Kelly School of Business, which was a somewhat unusual move for an undergrad headed into the Army. He says that in those days the military wanted engineers, but he nabbed one of the few scholarships available for business majors.
“I was an armor officer and tank platoon leader and went on active duty for a short amount of time, but then the Berlin Wall fell, and the last thing the government wanted in those days was a bunch of 2nd Lieutenants driving tanks around West Germany,” he says. “I was switched to pay back my scholarship as a reserve officer, so I spent the remainder of my time in the United States Army Reserves. That was something that was very special and has been very impactful in my life.”
After his time in the military, Calk attended the legendary General Electric two-year management program and landed a spot in management at GE Capital. That lasted six or seven years until the late ‘90s when his older brother introduced him to the home lending business.
“He talked me into coming to work with him, so I moved my family back to Chicago and I became a partner in a small mortgage banking company called Chicago Bancorp in Chicago,” he says. “I began raising my family here, married my wife Kathleen—she and I both met at GE—and we’ve raised six kids here in the Lake Forest area. We’ve been in Lake Forest for about 20 years now.”
Calk stayed with Chicago Bancorp through the mid-2000s when the real estate market fell into freefall. While Chicago Bancorp could weather the storm, new regulations requiring state-by-state licensing for mortgage companies and their bankers created a very challenging environment in which to do business.
“In 2007, I was 40 years old, and I had six children under the age of 12 and I was wondering if this business would even exist in the future,” he says. “We did something very unique in that we went out and tried to find a federally chartered bank that we could buy.”
The federal charter would allow Calk and his business partners to operate in any state without the onerous state licensing requirements. They found a small bank in Overland Park, Kansas, in 2010 and closed on the purchase in 2011. They quickly renamed it The Federal Savings Bank and shortly thereafter moved the charter to Chicago, where the bank is headquartered today.
“We’ve been singularly focused on building the business since 2011. Any small bank needs to have its niche, and our niche is helping people buy homes,” Calk says. “Helping people find a place called home is our tagline, and we’ve been very successful in doing that.
In just the last two to three years, The Federal Savings Bank has done more than 40,000 lending transactions, home loans totaling over $30 billion. As a federally chartered bank, the bank can get involved in any business as other chartered banks such as Chase and Wells Fargo, but it chooses to stay focused on a business that it knows very well. Mortgage lending to veterans is a priority.
“We do a lot of veteran home loans because the owners of the bank are veterans and we have a lot of commonalities and we believe that’s a good use of our purpose,” says Calk. “About 30 percent of our lending is to veterans.”
The Federal Savings Bank operates two branches in the Chicago area—one in Lake Forest and one in Logan Square—and has 45 offices serving every single state in the country.
“There’s two ways that we differentiate ourselves. Big banks make a lot of their money from investment banking and trading and wealth management,” he says. “The individual mom and pop home loan doesn’t really have the attractiveness of senior management that it would have in a family-owned bank, so that’s kind of our bread and butter.”
The bank can also write loans that big mortgage lenders might shy away from because they generally take their cues from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. For example, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have shied away from buying mortgages for second homes and investment properties. The Federal Savings Bank is well-positioned to make those loans because they can keep them in the bank’s portfolio. The bank is also in the retail banking business and Calk says their community-oriented approach fits right in with the bank’s overall operating philosophy.
“We have a beautiful bank branch in downtown Lake Forest, and we also have a branch in Logan Square. We’re a bank that needs to raise deposits and that’s how we fund transactions,” Calk says. “Having those relationships with individual customers, you can still operate that way, and people still want to come in and talk to the teller and the bank reps locally.”
Back before Calk and his partners purchased the bank that would become The Federal Savings Bank, he followed another of his passions that was close to his heart and home. In 2001, right around the 9/11 attacks, he and his wife, Kathleen, founded East Lake Academy, a private Pre-K through 8th Grade Catholic school in west Lake Forest.
“I’m very attracted to my Roman Catholic faith, and we were inspired to found East Lake Academy in 2001. Kathleen has been the 2nd Grade teacher there and now is the head of accounting and bookkeeping,” he says. “I’ve served as President since its founding, and each year we educate more than 150 kids on the west side of Lake Forest.”
The bank is committed to the school as well, and funds scholarships for 30 qualifying children of active-duty military families from Great Lakes Naval Station. The bank runs an annual golf outing at Deerpath Golf Course that raises between $200,000 to $300,000 dollars a year to fund the scholarships.
“We’re super passionate about Catholic education and private education and what it can provide,” Calk says.
The Federal Savings Bank is located at 664 N. Western Ave. in Lake Forest; 847-234-8484; thefederalsavingsbank.com