Heritage Bank: Banking on growth in SW Washington

Company triples its total assets from $1.1 billion to over $3.5 billion in the last three years

Heritage Bank sign

One-year after opening a new branch in East Vancouver, Olympia-based Heritage Bank is looking to continue to expand in Clark County, riding positive economic trends.

Heritage entered the Southwest Washington marketplace in September of 2010 via their acquisition of then-struggling Longview-based Cowlitz Bank (also known as Bay Bank). And after more than four years in Vancouver, starting at the city’s downtown regional headquarters, company officials say their experience in Clark County has been very positive.

“Once we came to town, we asked, where do we need to be?” recalled Heritage Bank Market Executive Brett Bryant.

The answer came in the very strategic 164th Avenue location, which, Bryant said, was the last street facing property available along that corridor.

“We have been delighted with that location,” Bryant added.

The success of Heritage’s eastside location has spurred additional prospects on growth. Along with their two locations in Cowlitz County (branches in Longview and Kelso), the bank is looking to add a branch in Salmon Creek.

“Southwest Washington is a very attractive, emerging mix of borrowers, depositors and investors,” Bryant said of the local landscape. “We see the [economic] mix changing, less dependent on building and multi-family housing, and rich with opportunities [at] the port and in the sectors of technology and healthcare.”

This growth in the marketplace leads to additional opportunities for new and spin-off businesses, which fit right in the wheelhouse of Heritage Bank, Bryant noted, referring to the bank’s involvement with SBA loans.

“That is really our niche,” he said.

Heritage Bank is certainly performing well in Southwest Washington, tripling their total assets from $1.1 billion to over $3.5 billion in the last three years.

Bryant sees the bank hitting their stride at $5 billion in assets, increasing from a small community bank to a highly competitive regional bank, able to match up against the “big banks.”

“I like what growth does for our new and existing staff members, as well as for our shareholders,” he said.

“I’d label us small right now,” Bryant added, “But I expect in the next couple of years, we won’t be small.”

So how does a small bank grow successfully in today’s tricky financial market?

Bryant labels Heritage’s strategy as careful and thoughtful. He said the bank attempts to differentiate itself in how its products are delivered.

“The perception of the banking industry is that there are really no discernible differences from one product to the next. We try and create a difference with the people who deliver our products,” Bryant said.

To illustrate his point, Bryant said that in order to join the Heritage Bank team, you must be community-minded and patient with a strong culture of learning. And, while banking products may not differentiate greatly from one another, they can be quite complex. Heritage Bank prides themselves in ensuring their customers have a strong understanding of the products they are receiving.

“We have done a lot of hiring over the last few years. We take great care in selecting the people we hire. We strive to hit the right balance of competence and cultural alignment,” Bryant said.

Editor’s note: Heritage Bank is a member of the Vancouver Business Journal’s Strategic Partners Program. To learn more about the program, contact Irene Pettengill at 360.448.6013.