LYNNWOOD — If you do a double take on the logo, don’t worry.
Plenty of people do.
First Interstate Bank once had branches all over Western Washington, and a skyscraper in downtown Seattle bore its name. That all disappeared about 20 years ago.
Now First Interstate Bank is back with a new branch at 2502 196th St. SW in Lynnwood.
“The name recognition has been very positive for us here, especially being a standalone facility for right now,” said Chuck Dodd, North Sound market president with First Interstate Bank.
So what happened? Mergers. One led to the bank’s disappearance, and one brought it back.
In 1996, Wells Fargo Bank acquired First Interstate Bancorp and the name of First Interstate disappeared throughout Washington. But it didn’t go away everywhere.
First Interstate BancSystems, headquartered in Billings, Montana, had a franchise agreement with First Interstate.
At the time, the Billings bank purchased six banks in Montana and Wyoming and obtained an exclusive license to use the “First Interstate” name and logo in Montana, Wyoming and the six neighboring states of Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota.
Over the past 20 years, First Interstate of Billings grew into a $9 billion bank, adding dozens of branches either through starting them from the ground up or acquisition.
Last year, the bank made its biggest acquisition to date, buying the $3 billion Bank of the Cascades, which was headquartered in Bend, Oregon.
Bank of the Cascades had just months earlier entered the Snohomish County market by purchasing Prime Pacific, which had $120 million in assets with branches in Lynnwood, Mill Creek and Kenmore.
Bank of the Cascades made the decision to close two of those branches — the Kenmore and Mill Creek branches.
Bank of the Cascades also had a loan center in Seattle and three smaller branches in southwest Washington.
So Prime Pacific became Bank of the Cascades which in turn became First Interstate. It was the banking system equivalent of the food chain.
Dodd, who had worked at Prime Pacific since 2003, said, “It’s been a bit of a wild ride for my team.”
Through the mergers, the number of bank employees dropped from 34 to 16.
First Interstate changed all of the signs this summer and celebrated its opening in Lynnwood last month.
The logo remains the same — the stylized letter I outlined by red and orange borders.
Dodd met with the bank’s executives after Bank of the Cascades was acquired by First Interstate and talked about the logo.
“We’re musing that the lapel pin when I worked for First Interstate of Oregon nearly 30 years ago is identical to the lapel pin we have now,” Dodd said. “There is no change whatsoever.”
Dodd expects things to be “pretty stable going forward,” although he thinks First Interstate will grow in Snohomish County.
“We’re not concerned about another merger in the future — there will likely be other acquisitions as we go forward,” he said.
Still, with all of the upheaval, how are the customers reacting? Dodd said the key is that most of the same people are working with many of the same customers.
“People bank with people,” he said.
David Smith, First Interstate’s branch manager in Lynnwood, agrees.
“It’s really about the people connection. The customers take comfort in seeing the same faces and the same level of service,” Smith said.
Smith also said there are different banking philosophies involved. He thinks that First Interstate is aligned closely with Prime Pacific.
Dodd agrees. The bank has more than 120 locations throughout the West, but it was founded by a Homer Scott Sr. in 1968 with a single location in Sheridan, Wyoming.
Scott’s son, James R. Scott, is the chairman of the board and the family retains majority stock in the company.
The bank also wants its bankers to be heavily involved in the community. Dodd noted that the bank encourages its employees to donate time and money at local charities.
The bank matches donations and donates $10 for every hour served at charities.
“When you read their value statement and how they develop the bank and their vision for the bank it’s very much nostalgic banking,” Dodd said.
And it also helps that the First Interstate sign and logo remain the same.
“A lot of people remember the brand, they’re familiar with the brand,” Smith said. “There’s a warm connection with that, that in itself is welcoming.”