OpusBank’s CEO says she’s ready for growth

By John Wolcott Snohomish County Business Journal

EVERETT — Carol Nelson, the president of the Washington region for California-based OpusBank, has a lot to smile about these days.

Previously the top executive at Cascade Bank in Everett before OpusBank’s takeover in summer 2011, Nelson remains in Everett as one of the region’s top banking leaders after Cascade’s sale to OpusBank. That move continued her role of overseeing Cascade Bank’s 22 offices in Western Washington and also put her in charge of all of OpusBank’s future expansion in the state.

During a time when government agencies were shutting down many familiar banking names in 2011 due to the stressed economy and an overindulgence in housing and developer loans, some banks were given the option of finding capital-boosting partners to remain in business.

“We sought out a merger partner who could provide us with more capital, as required by the Washington Department of Financial Institutions and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.,” Nelson said.

“Unlike many other banks, such as Frontier and Horizon, we didn’t fail, but we needed more financial strength.”

OpusBank was interested in Cascade Bank, founded in 1916, because the firm wanted to expand from a California base into a regional West Coast banking network, along with increasing Cascade’s 22 branches to as many as 50, Gordon said.

“We’re very excited because we’re very strongly capitalized at more than half a billion dollars and have a significant commitment as a community bank to increase our commercial business,” Nelson said. “We really want to expand lending for income properties, including multifamily housing, office buildings, retail loans and residential real estate as soon as the economy improves.”

OpusBank has plans to open a new office in Kirkland this month and by the end of the year it expects to open branches in Mount Vernon and Gig Harbor, she said.

“We want to grow OpusBank from Bellingham to Olympia, and that’s a lot of ground to cover,” she said. “This expansion plan is very different from what many other banks are doing.”

She said the Boeing Co.’s strong airliner sales and hiring in the Puget Sound area is a great help for the economy, but real estate activity hasn’t rebounded and business owners are still being cautious with expansion plans. When things improve, she said, OpusBank will be in a strong position to get involved.

Nelson, who worked several years at the former Seattle-First National Bank and successor Bank of America, knows the whole banking industry “is contracted right now and we keep hearing that people can’t get loans or lines of credit, but in a tough economy like this there are many things a community bank can do for people. We are lending.”

Part of OpusBank’s growth plan includes expanding the call center, a facility based at the downtown Everett office at Colby and Hewitt avenues that employs eight people.

Nelson believes OpusBank is in an enviable position for future expansion when the economy recovers, and she feels she’s ready for opportunities she sees on the horizon in Washington.

“It’s exciting to be part of a well-financed bank that has growth plans and opportunities for people,” she said.