He’s Banking On It

USD Alumnus David Reiling


Risk is something that David Reiling ’89 (BBA) has never been averse to. It’s a word that’s often tossed around in the world of banking, but for Reiling, risk takes on deeper meaning than it might for the average bank chairman and CEO.

His introduction to banking wasn’t for the faint of heart: Early in his career, he was present during five bank robberies. Those experiences might have caused the average person to consider looking for work in a different field, but not Reiling.

“I thought it was exciting, between the money and the bank robberies” he says. “And I was always kind of fascinated with money and commerce
and business.”

Reiling worked at branches in low-income, economically distressed communities, first in his native St. Paul, Minnesota and then at a stint in South Central Los Angeles in the early ’90s, when the region was the bank robbery capital of the world.

“It was a phenomenal learning experience, but the third time I had a gun to my head, I didn’t think my luck would last,” he recalls, a hint of a shrug in his voice. Though his career trajectory veered away from low-income neighborhoods, he never forgot the needs of the people who live and work in those communities.

Long before terms like Changemaker and social entrepreneurship became part of his lexicon, service to others was ingrained in him. “I had a very positive Catholic upbringing,” he says. “My time at USD was a wonderful extension of that.”

As an undergraduate, he was part of a USD team of volunteers that built a home for a family in Tijuana. This experience had a profound impact upon him, leading to an epiphany. “There was that aha moment during my time at USD,” he reminisces. “It was, ‘You’re going to have to earn a living, but finding your purpose in the world is really the place where you’re going be happy.’”

Reiling credits USD for nurturing his search for that purpose. “How do you find both a financial paycheck and the emotional paycheck within the work that you do? To make it not really work, but to make it your life’s purpose?”

He’s quick to note that his days on campus weren’t all about academics and community service. He still cherishes the people he met and the friendships he built, especially his most important relationship: He met his wife, Kerry ’89 (BA), while they were students. The couple has been married for 24 years and have three children, one of whom, Daniel, graduated from the university in 2019.

Reiling has always thought that doing well financially and doing good socially shouldn’t be mutually exclusive propositions. He was able to make that belief a reality when he received a lead from his father that there was a bank for sale in St. Paul in a low-income, immigrant community. It was a neighborhood that he knew well — a melting pot of ethnicities and cultures — as his immigrant grandmother had lived there. Even though people thought he was a little crazy, he wasn’t dissuaded. He saw it as his opportunity to practice what he preached.

When the purchase went through, “The bank was really on shaky ground,” Reiling admits. “I knew the only way that this bank was going to succeed was if the community succeeded.” He was intent on getting capital into the hands of the people that lived there; he saw that as the clearest path toward improving the community.

He notes his belief that the perceived risk of investing in low-income areas is overblown but cautions, “You really do have to understand the people that you serve and the community you serve.” That philosophy is the backbone of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI), and Sunrise Banks became the first — and still only — Minnesota bank that is CDFI certified.

It’s all part of a broader worldview. According to Reiling, there are two pressing social issues that humanity is facing. The first? “We lack sensitivity towards one another.” The second? “I don’t think we really understand how valuable peace is, economically, socially, culturally.”

He’s intent on being part of the solution, and his optimism is contagious. Sunrise has grown and now boasts total assets that exceed $1.4 billion. In fact, it’s ranked by B Lab as one of the best banks in the world for positive social and environmental impact.

Reiling’s USD experience came full circle when his son graduated from the university in 2019. Not content to be a proud parent from afar, he served on the board of USD’s Office of Parent and Family Relations. “It was so much fun to be on the parent board and to reconnect, see old friends, and understand where the university is and where it’s going. It was a great excuse to get back on campus and to see the school keep progressing and growing. It was an exciting thing to be a part of.”

David Reiling found his purpose all those years ago when he was a student at USD. Today, he’s a living example of the tremendous influence and positive impact one Changemaker can have.  — Ray Decker

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