A bank with deep roots in Powell is branching out — while putting down even deeper roots.
First Bank of Wyoming is combining with 1st Bank, based in Evanston, to become a new entity known as First Bank.
The result is that the renamed First Bank office in Powell will serve as the headquarters for 12 branches in western Wyoming and two in northern Utah.
“It’s good for Powell,” said Ty Nelson, who will serve as the president of First Bank; he previously had been the president of First Bank of Wyoming.
Nelson said the change has “created a lot of opportunity for staff in Powell and Cody to really advance without having to move out of the area,” while combining the 14 branches’ management should allow the bank to put more of a focus on serving customers.
First Bank will have just over $1 billion in assets.
“Once you get to the size we are now, it’s not going to change again,” Nelson said. “We’re going to stay in Powell, Wyoming.”
First Bank of Wyoming and 1st Bank are both divisions of Kalispell, Montana-based Glacier Bank and they already shared the same software and systems. Customers will continue to have the same account numbers and their debit cards will keep working as normal, bank officials say. First Bank of Wyoming customers will eventually need to change their checks, direct deposits and automated debits, because First Bank will use the routing number now associated with 1st Bank.
The transition should be “seamless” for customers, said Trace Paul, who was recently promoted to the new position of Powell branch manager. The bank generally hasn’t had a branch manager because “we’ve always spread the executives in Powell over three areas [Powell, Cody and Lovell] — to the detriment, sometimes, of the Powell market,” Nelson said. He said it will be a “huge benefit” to now have a branch manager “focused 100 percent on Powell.”
Paul, a Powell native, said that “this bank has an incredible history with this community and we don’t plan to change that, by any means.”
For the two banking divisions, the driving factor behind combining into First Bank “is there’s so much regulatory overhead that we have to deal with,” Nelson said. “The biggest problem [is] if you’re under a billion dollars in assets, it’s really hard to spread that cost out effectively.”
He added that, “It seems like, the last eight years, everybody we hire is for compliance — and it’s frustrating.”
As separate entities, First Bank of Wyoming and 1st Bank each had to hire back office personnel who might spend a third of their time on one type of regulation, and a third of their time on another, Nelson said.
In contrast, the combined institution is now large enough to have employees assigned to very specific jobs. And that will free up time for other staffers to focus on customers, said Nelson.
“Now we want to hopefully transition those people to where we can have more tellers, more personal bankers,” he said. “That’s my goal — is to have more people taking care of customers instead of dealing with regulation.”
He added that the tax cuts passed by Congress last year were a “big deal” for the bank, providing savings that will help it hire and promote staff and increase its profit-sharing plan.
Five bank employees — three in Powell and two in Evanston — were laid off and offered severance packages last November in preparation for the transition, as their jobs overlapped. Nelson called that reduction one of the downsides of the change, but said there are no plans for further layoffs.
“Overall, it will be a boost to everybody, because you just have the flexibility to provide better opportunities and, along with that, compensation, as a bigger bank,” Nelson said.
First Bank staff can work out of any of the bank’s 14 locations; for example, its underwriter for construction loans is working out of Pinedale.
Locals will continue to help steer the bank’s direction, as the First Bank of Wyoming board members from Powell and Cody are simply being joined by five former 1st Bank directors from Evanston, Mountain View, Afton and Utah.
Dick Nelson, Ty Nelson’s father and a former president of the bank, will chair the First Bank board. He called the combination, “one of those win-win deals — which is the way to put them together if we can.”
The Nelson family has helped lead the bank for four generations, starting when S.A. Nelson founded the institution as First National Bank of Powell in 1912. It was renamed First National Bank and Trust in 1998, then acquired by Glacier Bancorp in 2009.
At the time of the sale to Glacier, the bank had about $280 million worth of assets.
Consolidation has been the trend in banking for decades.
From the end of 2008 to the end of last year, Federal Reserve data says the number of commercial banks in the United States has dropped from 7,022 to 4,888 institutions — a 30 percent drop in nine years.
First Bank is among 13 divisions of Glacier Bank, which operates 146 banking offices in 91 communities in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Washington and Arizona.
Parent company Glacier Bancorp recently acquired two other banks, one based in Bozeman, Montana, and another based in Buena Vista, Colorado, which are expected to add another $1.5 billion to Glacier’s current $9.7 billion worth of assets.
Glacier President and CEO Randy Chesler told investors and analysts in January that the company could potentially announce another acquisition later this year.
“We have a simple model: great banks in great markets with great people,” Chesler said. “And if we can find one that fits that, that would be the earliest we could do a transaction.”
Ty Nelson said the CEO lets Glacier’s divisions “do their thing,” trusting that local bankers know their local markets the best.
Glacier technically combined First Bank of Wyoming and 1st Bank in January. Signs and other materials will start featuring First Bank’s new logo starting in April, with a new website rolling out later this year.
Beyond Powell, Cody and Lovell, First Bank has branches in Afton, Alpine, Evanston, Kemmerer, Mountain View, Pinedale, Rock Springs and Morgan and Mountain Green, Utah.