Commercial banking veteran Bob Beck has joined Spokane-based AmericanWest Bank, after working nearly half of his 40-year banking career at a North Idaho-based bank.
At AmericanWest, which is refining its identity as a business-focused community bank, Beck is now vice president and business development officer specializing in small business lending.
He will be based at AmericanWest's Hayden, Idaho, branch, near his home, but will work with lending teams throughout Eastern Washington and North Idaho, a territory that is home to 38 of AmericanWest's 112 branches. The rest of the bank's branches are in Western Washington, Oregon, Utah, and California.
"AmericanWest is going to be a great fit," Beck says. "AmericanWest has more tools here and a larger footprint."
Kelly McPhee, a spokeswoman for the bank, says Beck's responsibilities at AmericanWest will include working with teams that handle all of the banks commercial banking products and services, including helping clients with business development.
Such a team might include a commercial banker, someone in treasury management who helps leverage money on the balance sheet for the customer, someone who manages credit card transactions, and a small-business specialist, she says.
Beck, who came on board at AmericanWest last month, says he's impressed by the bank's team approach to serving business clients, which he says offers clients more tools to help them succeed in business.
"There is a lot of talent among team members," he says. "They aren't just oriented toward sales; they are here for the long term."
Beck says he's already led a team effort recently when a business owner requested financing to fund a new business approach.
"I contacted someone else I wanted on the team, and by the time the loan closed, another eight people from AmericanWest had met the owner," he says.
Following commercial banking stints in Nevada, Colorado, and Montana, Beck worked for 17 years at Coeur d'Alene-based Mountain West Bank, the perennial leader in U.S. Small Business Administration lending in the SBA's Spokane District.
AmericanWest has been growing its portfolio of SBA-backed loans here, reaching 15th on the list of top 20 SBA lenders in the district in fiscal 2012, with 11 loans totaling $2.7 million. The bank didn't appear on the top 20 list the two previous years.
McPhee says, "We feel we're gaining tremendous momentum. We've been on an upward trajectory for a couple of years."
AmericanWest also is an SBA-preferred lender, meaning it's among a selected minority of banks that can approve certain government-backed loans through a streamlined process without waiting on the SBA for approval, she says.
"For that status, SBA selected us," McPhee says. "They actually nominate the bank and say, 'This bank knows what it's doing and knows our criteria.'"
Banks without preferred-lender status can originate SBA-backed loans, but those loans are subject to final approval by the SBA.
AmericanWest shifted to a business-focused community bank in 2010, following a brush with bankruptcy amid the recession-related bank industry crisis in which 157 banks failed that year alone.
Private-equity investors rescued the bank by committing $750 million in capital to return it to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s top designation of well capitalized.
"We've been tightening our skill set to develop a proficiency in serving small business and the middle market, and we've been moving in that direction a lot in last couple years," she says.
For example, AmericanWest has developed business banking centers at the branch level through which business customers can obtain loans of up to $250,000 out of their branches.
On the upper end, American West has a loan limit of $25 million.
"In this region, we can take care of almost anybody," McPhee says.
Over the last year, the bank's organic loan growthwhich is separate from growth through acquisitionsexceeded 10 percent compared with the year-earlier organic loan growth.
"To be in double figures, that's a phenomenal number for us and for any bank," she says.
Net loans and leases totaled $1.7 billion as of March 31, up 27 percent from a year earlier.
Since its rescue, AmericanWest has remained well capitalized, McPhee says.
AmericanWest's deposits as of March 31 totaled $2.2 billion, up 14 percent from a year earlier.
"Our deposits are so strong, we are self-funding our loans," McPhee says.
Some banks that aren't as well capitalized or don't have as many deposits as they would like can borrow from what's called the discount window, which is controlled by the Federal Reserve and allows eligible banks to borrow money on a short-term basis, she says.
"It means basically paying for loans from the Fed," McPhee says. "We aren't in that situation."
While AmericanWest continues to offer a full range of consumer banking products, the majority of its loans are commercial loans.
Beck says commercial borrowers range from small startups to some of the region's largest corporations, and almost all of them fall under the definition of small to midsized.
"I can relate to a lot of small businesses with their need for capital and their need for a friend," he says. "A banker has got to be their cheerleader."
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