By Jim Davis
The Herald Business Journal
EVERETT — Peoples Bank has opened the doors on its biggest and splashiest location in Snohomish County.
The Everett Financial Center — a $3.4 million, 13,000-square-foot building at the corner of Colby and Everett avenues — will serve as the flagship for the bank’s efforts in the community.
“We wanted to be part of the business community of Everett,” said Tony Repanich, one of the bank’s executive vice presidents. “Colby Avenue represents the core and the heart of the business community. So it was important to find a location here.”
The financial center at 2702 Colby Ave. replaces a smaller branch about a block away.
Peoples Bank, headquartered in Bellingham, has had a presence in the county for about a decade. In the last three years, the bank has made a concerted effort to expand there.
The loss of community banks like Frontier, Cascade and City Bank in the county created an opening in the market, Repanich said.
“If you look at the change in the financial services landscape over the last few years here in Everett, that really provided an opportunity that didn’t previously exist, because this area was so well served by community banks,” Repanich said.
Now Peoples Bank has two branches in Everett, the financial center and a location at 6920 Evergreen Way, the Mill Creek and Snohomish branches and an Edmonds branch that opened on June 20.
Is the bank seeking to expand even more?
“We’re continuing to look, but with adding so many branches over the past year, we really need to make these new investments work,” he said. “We’re a pretty patient, long-term-oriented organization. Slow and steady.”
The loss of so many community banks also was an opportunity to attract talented bankers.
“We’re a people-led bank, so if we find the bankers they have the relationships that bring the customers,” he said.
One of those bankers is Steve Erickson, senior vice president commercial team leader at the financial center. He worked for 34 years at Cascade Bank and lost his job after Irvine, California-headquartered Opus Bank took over. When he was looking at his options, Erickson said he wanted to land at Peoples Bank.
“I’ve gone through one acquisition in my life and it was difficult for both me and the customers,” Erickson said. “I wanted to be with a bank that was in it for the long haul and not looking to be acquired by another bank.”
Available talent led the bank to open in Edmonds. Peoples Bank branch manager in the city, Vern Woods, spent 20 years working at Cascade Bank and later Opus Bank.
“When he was looking to change banks, he actually approached us,” Repanich said. “He made a case that he was a great fit for Peoples and we were great for Edmonds.”
The bank is in a temporary location at 111 Main St., Suite 102, while Peoples looks for a permanent site.
Assistant vice president and Everett branch manager Natalie Witney said she was drawn to Peoples Bank in part because of its emphasis on community involvement. She had worked at Union Bank previously.
“What I’m experiencing is the business community wants to give back,” Witney said. “They want to revitalize Everett, they want to stimulate the economy here. It’s a lot of fun to connect with those people and help them do that.”
Erickson said that Peoples Bank is one of the top 10 community banks in the state in terms of size with $1.5 billion in assets.
“Our size, as far as from a community-bank standpoint, offers a lot to the businesses and consumers within the county,” Erickson said. “We’re large enough to meet many of the requests in the community. We’re extremely well capitalized.”
Peoples Bank now has 40 employees working in the county. The Everett Financial Center has 13 employees and is housed in a renovated, two-story building. It will hold training offices for the bank’s county branches. Everett’s Dykeman Architects designed the building. Gaffney Construction was the contractor.
“Dykeman Architects have been a long-time partner of the bank,” Repanich said. “They have helped us on 20 some facilites around the state, it was really fun to be able to do something significant in their hometown.”
Peoples Bank has been open since 1921 and has 26 branches throughout the state in seven counties. The bank survived the recession, in part, because of a risk-management program that focused on ensuring that it wasn’t concentrated on any one line of business.
“If you look at the banks that didn’t fare so well, they were heavily concentrated in land acquisition and development,” Repanich said. “While we had some of those loans — and they performed equally as poorly as some of our competitors — we weren’t overweighted in that category.
“That was a specific strategy. I don’t think we knew at the time how good of a strategy it was until we saw it in practice.”