Room for one more?

Columbia River Bank moves headquarters to Vancouver, plans three new branches

By the end of the year, Columbia River Bank will be serving customers in Vancouver. For now, The Dalles, Ore.-based corporation operates from a Spartan, temporary office in Vancouvercenter, and plans to move its headquarters across the river.

By the end of the year, Columbia River Bank will be serving customers in Vancouver. For now, The Dalles, Ore.-based corporation operates from a Spartan, temporary office in Vancouvercenter, and plans to move its headquarters across the river.

The bank will spend nearly $7 million to relocate to Vancouver and open three branches. One is under construction on Mill Plain Boulevard near 164th Street, and a second will be built at a to-be-announced location. The third, say bank officials, will be a purchase of an existing building.

Once complete, the move will make Vancouver the 31-year-old bank’s third major market, after Central Oregon and the Tri-Cities area.

The move was driven by the bank’s strategy of doubling its size each year, said Roger Christensen, president and CEO of Columbia Bancorp, the holding company for the bank. To make this happen, he and his cadre of executives went shopping for a new market and arrived at Vancouver.

"The market that most resembles our model is Vancouver," said Christensen. "It has that community feel and we feel we can make a difference here, and it gives us opportunity for growth in the long term."

"We get lost in Portland," added executive vice president and chief banking officer R. Shane Correa. "But there’s business here for us for the next 15 years."

Moving the headquarters and opening the three branches will create about 30 new jobs in Vancouver and relocate the bank’s six executive officers. Christensen said the bank plans to have between seven and nine branches open in Clark County by 2012.

Along with the Vancouver expansion, Columbia River Bank operates 23 branches from Bend, Ore., up into the Tri-Cities area, and as far north as Yakima. With nearly $1 billion in assets, Columbia River Bank has for the last six years been ranked by US Banker Magazine among the 12 most profitable banks in the country. No small feat for a bank founded by locals with – according to Correa – no banking experience in 1976 and written off by industry analysts as likely to fail in 1980.

"It was a bunch of local guys in The Dalles who were tired of not having a bank that supported the agriculture industry," Correa said. "They would literally sit around at the corner café and talk about it and then decided to form their own bank."

The bank’s "founding farmers," in a way, live on through the contemporary leadership; Christensen and Correa both grew up on farms in Idaho and Eastern Washington. It seems you can’t take the farm out of the banker.

"We’re just local guys that work our butts off to make it happen," said Christensen.

Today, 19 percent of the bank’s loan portfolio remains in agriculture, maintaining the company’s roots. In fact, the bank logo – a sun above water on a rusty brown background – remains unchanged since the founding year. It is a nod to the three things necessary to grow crops; sunlight, water and soil. Since then, the bank has taken on other sectors, such as construction (29 percent) and real estate (21 percent) and offers business and personal banking services, touting a community feel it works hard to maintain.

"The total culture of the bank is community based," said Christensen. "Our tellers as well as bankers can say yes to many transactions and services on the spot, and our branches are designed to be very customer friendly also."

Christensen said he competes with all community banks, but cites the single-branch Vancouver-based Bank of Clark County as the bank’s chief business lending competitor in Vancouver.

"That’s very flattering," said Bank of Clark County Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Kim Capeloto of the mention. "They’ve been very successful and I’m sure they’ll do well here."

Both banks offer deposit pick up service to business clients. The Bank of Clark County may have the home field advantage; it runs five couriers who make 225 stops daily. Still, Christensen says competition between community banks is good natured.

"It’s very friendly," said Christensen. "In fact I just had lunch with (Bank of Clark County President and CEO) Mike (Worthy). There’s enough business for everyone out here."

Columbia River Bank has identified its main competitor to be Bank of Clark County. BoCC’s strongest area is real estate, which accounts for 34.02 percent of its loan portfolio. Columbia River Bank’s largest loan sector is construction, at 29 percent. Below is a comparison of both banks’ total loan portfolios:

*Nearly one-fifth of Columbia Bancorp’s loan portfolio is agriculture, including:

Cattle: 15 percent

Cherries: 14 percent

Wheat: 11 percent

Vegetables, potatoes and melons: 10 percent

Apples: 6 percent

Grape vineyards: 3 percent

Timber: 3 percent

Hay: 14 percent

Support for agriculture and forestry: 4 percent

Misc. crops: 12 percent

Source: Annual reports from each bank