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Major changes reshape local financial world

Two familiar banking brands are no longer in Fort Dodge

February 3, 2013
By TERRENCE DWYER, , Messenger News

As 2013 unfolds, two familiar banking names are no longer part of the Fort Dodge financial world. First Federal Iowa and the local branch of Bank of America were both purchased by other banks during 2012. These changes demonstrate great confidence in the economic potential of Fort Dodge by the acquiring banks, according spokesmen for those entities.

Great Western expands

After more than a half century as a major banking force both locally - and ultimately across the Hawkeye State - First Federal Iowa was acquired by Great Western Bank. The acquisition was announced in March 2012 and took effect in June.

Article Photos

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Great Western Bank group president Kirk Yung works on some papers in his office. Great Western Bank purchased First Federal of Iowa in June 2012.

Both of First Federal's Fort Dodge offices continue to operate as part of the Great Western System.

That makes these banking locations part of a huge banking enterprise that is rapidly becoming a major financial player in the Midwest. According to Kirk Yung, the group president who leads Great Western's operations in Webster and Story counties as well as Perry, the bank has assets of roughly $9 billion, 200 banking locations in seven states (Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and South Dakota) and approximately 1,500 employees. It is the key component of the National Australia Bank Group's banking holdings in the United States. According to information provided by the company, it is the seventh largest ag lender in the U.S. Its presence in the Hawkeye State includes 56 banking offices.

The decision to add First Federal's properties to the Great Western system was part of the bank's rapid and aggressive growth strategy, according to Yung. It was an important part of Great Western's game plan to become one of the leading banks in the Midwest, he said.

"Great Western has done 17 acquisitions in the last 10 years," Yung said. "Ten years ago they were roughly a $500 million bank. Today they are a $9 billion bank. ... We're still looking to acquire additional banks."

He said First Federal was an attractive enhancement to Great Western because of its strength as a retail bank (i.e., focused on single-family home loans, consumer lending, personal checking and deposit accounts) and its long history in the Fort Dodge financial marketplace.

"Great Western's roots are more aligned in the commercial and ag sector, whereas First Federal had much more of a retail focus," Yung explained. "We are growing that aspect of our business. ... We viewed the acquisition as a nice marriage of the two organizations because we really do want to have a strong retail focus as well as commercial and ag."

The economic dynamism and potential of Fort Dodge and Webster County also made the First Federal acquisition appealing to decision makers at Great Western, according to Yung.

"One of the key reasons that Great Western was interested in First Federal was because of the exciting things that are happening in Fort Dodge," he said. "We view Fort Dodge as a community that is on the brink of some really exciting growth. We know that this is a very vibrant agricultural area and we would like to play a part in seeing that continue to grow."

Yung stressed that as a large regional bank, Great Western's presence locally can be a major asset as the effort to grow the local economy moves forward. He pointed out that Great Western's total assets are in the neighborhood of 18 times larger than were First Federal's.

"The strength of our balance sheet allows us to do a lot bigger transactions in terms of lending and we also have the ability to offer more product offerings in terms of longer-term fixed rates and do some things that maybe smaller community banks just aren't equipped to do - the ability to be a one-stop-shop for commercial and ag business," he said.

Yung also emphasized that one of Great Western's biggest selling points is that for all categories of customers it is a full-service bank with great financial stability.

"We have a complete set of banking services that can take care of everything from the smallest little checking account to a large commercial customer," he said.

Northwest Bank is on the move

Unlike, First Federal Iowa, Bank of America is not disappearing from the banking world either in Iowa or nationally. A decision was made by the company, however, to sell several of its Hawkeye State properties to Northwest Bank, a large community bank headquartered in Spencer. The Bank of America offices taken over by Northwest Bank were in Algona, Fort Dodge, Estherville and Spencer. They became part of Northwest in September 2012.

These properties have been meshed seamlessly into the Northwest system, John Taets, Northwest's regional market president for the area that includes Webster County, said noting that all of the former Bank of America personnel in Fort Dodge became part of the Northwest family.

Northwest Bank now has two local offices - the former Bank of America office in downtown Fort Dodge on the corner of Seventh Street and First Avenue South and its main office at 10 N. 29th St. near the Crossroads Mall.

"We retained 100 percent of the staff in the acquisition and I'm pleased that all 100 percent are still here today," Taets said. "In Fort Dodge, it's been a good blend of staff. I credit the previous Bank of America team downtown. It's a whole different products and services line that they've had to learn and they've done a real nice job of doing that. And I credit our staff here for working with the previous Bank of America customers and helping them understand the Northwest products. It's been real good for us."

He said he is delighted to report that Northwest Bank has retained most of the former Bank of America customers.

"We're a full-service community bank," Taets said. "I think where we really came through for some of our Bank of America customers is Bank of America was very technology-driven, driven to websites, driven to 1-800 numbers for service. With Northwest Bank, we're here. We live and work in the community. Our banking headquarters is Spencer, Iowa. The local service and the local team here can take care of all their products, services and needs right here in this location."

Great Western Bank is new to most local residents. Northwest Bank is not.

Northwest opened an office in Fort Dodge just short of a decade ago - in May 2003. It is a $1 billion-plus financial enterprise with 21 banking locations - 19 in Iowa and two in Nebraska. It has about 275 employees and is growing rapidly. Taets said the bank's Fort Dodge outlets have become about a $100 million operation.

Like Great Western, Northwest is also expanding fast. Taets said it is building that growth around the communities it knows best. He said its strategy is keyed on the strengths of those locales.

"We're on a very nice steady growth rate," Taets said. "We like to talk about expansion in our own backyard. Our own backyard is Iowa."

He said many of the bank's clients appreciate Northwest Bank's commitment to helping build the communities where it does business.

"By growing that way, it allows our customers to help invest and reinvest in the success of their communities," Taets said. "We look at the communities that we are in. We look at small business. We look at agricultural business, farmers and we look at the main street. That's our bread and butter. That's how we grow. When they grow, we grow. It's pretty simple."

Taets is bullish about the economic future of Fort Dodge, Webster County and the other communities in Northwest Bank's service area.

"The ag economy has been strong and you look at the rural communities that are surrounded by the ag area and it's not too hard to ... see that when the ag economy is strong, those communities are strong," he said. "We're very optimistic about that. We're optimistic about main street in Fort Dodge and in our communities that we serve. We think there are lots of opportunities there and we expect to be there with them when they want to grow and expand. We want to be there with them and we are encouraged by it."

Taets stressed that his bank mixes the personalized service and knowledge of the communities in which it does business with the financial strength clients sometimes seek in larger banks.

"We're a full-service community bank that has the size and capacity of a regional bank," he said. "We offer the full range of products and services to meet all the financial needs of a customer. I always say great rates, great products and great service."



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