To call Wheatland Bank’s expansion into the Tri-Cities a success would be an understatement.
“We budgeted for loan growth, but we didn’t anticipate this much loan growth,” said Sue Horton, president and CEO of Wheatland Bank and Chair of the Board.
[blockquote quote="People still want relationships, especially when times are tough." source="Sue Horton, president and CEO of Wheatland Bank" align="right" max_width="300px"]
Banks in Washington took a huge hit during the financial collapse, but Horton said the board saw an opportunity for the bank to prosper in the Tri-Cities.
“People still want relationships, especially when times are tough. Very few banks do what we do. We really invest in our relationships, spending a lot of time face-to-face with our customers, understanding the challenges they face and what keeps them awake at night,” Horton said.
Before committing to a location, Wheatland Bank invested resources in finding the right team leader, someone who knows the area and would garner a warm reception from customers.
“And all of a sudden we were introduced to Steve Lancaster,” said Horton, who connected with Lancaster through a mutual acquaintance. “The minute we met, we knew we had the leader we needed to venture into that area and have success. For Steve, it was really important for him to be with a bank that’s an ag bank. It’s just been a really good fit. Steve is really a community banker at heart.”
With Lancaster at the helm, Wheatland Bank opened in February 2015 at 9715 Sandifur Parkway in Pasco. Horton said Lancaster recruited an entire team of people, and many of his previous customers followed him when he made the move.
“It’s been the most successful branch we’ve ever opened. In and of itself, it’s produced record results for the bank,” Horton said, adding that in the state of Washington, banks of all sizes grew 8.5 percent last year, and banks of similar size nationwide grew 8.9 percent. “Our loan growth was up 36 percent. This was the highest percentage of loan growth in the entire state—no one else even came close. We’re at $350 million in total assets. And from our Pasco branch, we have $72.5 million in loans, so that kind of puts it in perspective.”
Horton said it’s been a game changer for Wheatland Bank, which is headquartered in Spokane and has 14 full-service branches throughout Eastern and Central Washington. Wheatland Bank was formed in 1979 and has received a 5-Star Superior rating by Bauer Financial Inc. for more than 36 consecutive quarters.
Before joining Wheatland Bank 17 years ago, Horton worked in public accounting in Seattle. She moved to Spokane to work for McFarland and Alton—which has since been acquired by Moss Adams.
“That’s where I developed the banking expertise and practice for them,” said Horton, who was the partner in charge of the financials, auditing and consulting. “We had about 50 banks [as clients], and Wheatland Bank was used to working with me. When their CEO retired, they approached me. It was pretty visionary for a group of men to approach a woman.”
Horton was 37 at the time, and was one of the youngest CEOs in the nation to boot.
“U.S. Banker Magazine ranked me as one of the top 25 women in banking for five years in a row,” she recalled. “It was a wonderful networking and mentoring opportunity.”
She was a partner and owner in McFarland and Alton, and for her to walk away, Horton said she wanted to know Wheatland Bank wouldn’t be swallowed up by a larger company. That meant adopting a strategic plan to remain independent, as well as adding anti-takeover provisions and bylaws.
“That’s another layer of protection. This plan started in 1999, and in the midst of mergers and acquisitions, we do not have any plans to sell. Our plan is to remain independent and serve families and farmers and new communities we expand into,” she explained. “Really, when it comes right down to it, it’s about creating a plan where you can deliver shareholder value. We have over 400 shareholders, and primarily all from the markets we serve. Many have been shareholders since 1979.”
Despite its name, Wheatland Bank serves more than just agricultural businesses. Half of its portfolio is indeed ag-related; however, Horton said they do just as much in the commercial arena and want to provide commercial and residential lending to Tri-Cities residents as the bank continues to grow.
“We don’t have any specific dates or times when we’ll add another location. We’re still trying to catch our breath from all this growth,” she said. “Our number one goal is to give excellent service to these wonderful customers and do that in a way that is different than maybe other banks can deliver, with a human touch.”
Horton said a second Wheatland Bank would most likely be located in a different city. Pasco was chosen as the first location because it was well liked for its agricultural customer base.
“The [ag customers] prefer banking in Pasco rather than crossing the bridge,” she explained. “That was one of the objectives—give the customers what they were asking for. Our next location will more likely be Kennewick or Richland. In our five-year plan, that makes sense.”
For more information on Wheatland Bank, visit wheatlandbank.com.
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