AmericanWest Bank is buying Viking Bank for $7.2 million

POULSBO — AmericanWest Bank, which was revived out of bankruptcy in 2010 under the ownership of a new holding company, is acquiring Viking Bank for $7.2 million, or $2.65 per share.

Viking Bank’s branches, including the one in Poulsbo, will bear the AmericanWest Bank name after the acquisition is approved by federal regulators. AmericanWest Chairman and CEO Scott A. Kisting said approval could come by the end of the year.

Kisting said the only change Viking Bank customers will see will be the name change. “Our strategy is to build a business-focused community bank. Our primary target customer is the small-business community — companies with 0 to $25 million in sales ... We’re not to trying to be B of A.”

Kisting said all Viking Bank positions will be retained. “We really want to keep the people. Their business philosophy is consistent with ours. We want them to continue to do the same job they’re doing.”

Viking Financial Services Corporation, the holding company of Viking Bank, will merge with an affiliate of AmericanWest Bank. Viking Financial had total assets of $406 million and total deposits of $379 million on June 30.

Viking Bank was founded in Ballard in 1992. On the company’s website, Dr. Thorpe Kelly, founding director of Viking Bank, said of the bank’s founding, "People were looking — and are still looking — for a bank that is set up to serve them, rather than some big bank bureaucracy.” Kelly proposed his idea of a business-oriented bank to local business leaders after spending half a business day in a bank's downtown office to get a loan. “I was running six figures through my local branch but they still couldn't OK a simple loan," he said on the website.

Viking Bank became a reality in 80 days. Total assets grew to nearly $25 million in its first full year of operations. Viking Bank now has branches in Poulsbo, Bainbridge Island, Ballard, Bellevue and Puyallup, and two in Seattle.

In the acquisition announcement, Kisting said of Viking Bank, "The experienced team at Viking Bank has done an outstanding job serving their customers and communities and it’s our pleasure to assist them in continuing that tradition now as part of AmericanWest Bank. Our bank is in a strong capital position with money to lend so we are particularly enthusiastic about the positive impact we can make by meeting the lending and enhanced product needs of Viking customers.”

In the same announcement, Viking Financial Chairman Landon Brazier said, "Combining with AmericanWest Bank will provide Viking Bank with important resources that will help our customers and communities prosper and afford our employees greater opportunities for career development. Going forward our customers will benefit from AmericanWest’s considerable capital resources and infrastructure, and our communities will continue to enjoy the long‐standing stewardship they’ve come to expect from us. The last three years have been extremely challenging for Viking Bank and other local banks in the area. This transaction also delivers our shareholders liquidity in a time of considerable market turmoil.”

Kisting organized SKBHC Holdings in 2009 and acquired AmericanWest in 2010, after the bank’s parent company filed for bankruptcy protection. Kisting’s banking career began at Bank of America. He left B of A in 1999 to work for Norwest, which bought Wells Fargo, and he managed 25 percent of the company. He later went to New England where he was president of Citizens Financial Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland. He returned to the West Coast to work for California Federal, then joined the management team that formed SKBHC Holdings.

According to a Nov. 30 story in the Spokane Spokesman-Review, SKBHC Holdings offered $6.5 million for AmericanWest and raised more than $750 million to recapitalize the bank; investors include FFL, Goldman Sachs Capital Partners, and Oaktree Capital Management. Earlier this year, AmericanWest Bank expanded into Western Washington by acquiring Bank of the Northwest. Based in Spokane, AmericanWest Bank currently operates 63 branches in Washington, Idaho, California and Utah, with total assets of about $2 billion and deposits of about $1.6 billion. It has about 500 employees. Viking Bank has 98.

“It’s easy to see that Viking Bank employees take pride in being a Washington‐based community bank and place a premium on delivering exceptional customer service,” Kisting said in the announcement. “With these among the many character traits we have in common, I’m confident customers will experience a smooth transition as our two banks come together.”

Viking Financial was advised in this transaction by Sandler O'Neill + Partners, LP and the law firm of Graham & Dunn PC. AmericanWest Bank was advised by Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.

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