First Western Bank & Trust marks its 50th anniversary in Minot this year as a much larger and more diversified enterprise than had existed in 1964.
What began as First Western State Bank now is a full-service financial center with interests in banking, insurance, trust and equipment leasing.
The growth largely has occurred under the helm of now board chairman Jack Hoeven, who bought the bank in 1970. One of Hoeven’s early decisions was to relocate the bank in 1972 from the Town & Country Center property to the other side of South Broadway, where it exists today. The bank is working on its third expansion at that site.
A stipulation to acquiring the current property from the architect who owned it was to hire the architect for the construction project. While that worked out well, Hoeven thought the building needed more character something to help brand the company.
“My father had always been in the cattle business,” he said. “He had a brand, which was registered.”
The bank sent letters to ranching customers to find out if they might be willing to share their brands. The response was overwhelming.
“We had more brands offered to us than we had space,” Hoeven said.
Those brands are engraved in the face of the bank building. For years, the bank’s slogan was “a better brand of banking.”
First Western now has branch offices at Dakota Square in Minot and in Glenburn and Eden Prairie, Minn. It has an insurance office in Minot and is building another branch office in north Minot that is set to open late this fall. The number of employees has grown from about 15 people who worked at the original bank to more than 150 people at the main bank and other offices.
Growth often has been driven by needs in the community.
The bank set up a trust department, approved by the State Banking Board in 1972 and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in 1973. The department was in response to customers who began designating First Western as trust for their assets. When Hoeven’s son, John, joined the business, he took charge of the trust department and built it into a major part of the bank operation.
First Western established an insurance department in May 1999 after receiving an offer to buy an existing firm. However, the State Banking Board first needed to reverse a chartering glitch to provide the authority for that to happen.
First Western also established a business equipment leasing operation after approached with the opportunity. Advanced Acceptance Leasing rents janitorial, golf course and other small equipment.
Hoeven noted the bank falls under both state and federal regulatory rules, which have changed with the times. Still, he said, business gets done the old-fashioned way, which centers on relationships between the bank and its customers.
A loan customer is more than just a number reflecting statistical credit risk, he said.
“We really pride ourselves that we judge people on character,” Hoeven said. “It’s worked. We trusted them, and our trust has proven to be pretty good.”
“I would say that the bank’s success this far is because we continue to focus first on the customer, second on the employee and third on the bank,” said bank president Rich Campbell. “One thing that’s always impressed me here is we have a very active board of directors, which is made up of community members. They provide us with a lot of guidance and input.”
As an independent community bank, First Western has the advantage of being able to make decisions locally and quickly, he said.
Due to their role in circulating money, banks are both critical to a community’s success and dependent upon that success, Hoeven added.
“If you go into a town and see a thriving bank, you will see a thriving town,” he said.
Hoeven expects First Western will be taking care of the Minot community as an independent, family-owned bank for many more years. The quality and longevity of staff members have benefited the bank, and Hoeven doesn’t see that changing. Although Hoeven is less involved in the day-to-day activities, his daughter, Becky Elder, and two granddaughters are employed by the bank. John Hoeven serves on the board.
Campbell said First Western is prepared to continue to grow along with the Minot region.
“We see Minot as a vibrant, growing community,” he said. “If we were to look at growth, we would look in North Dakota first.”