Response to Talton on Seafirst Retrospective

Former Seafirst TowerSeptember 29, 2015

Jon Talton

Seattle Times Business

Re: Micro V Macro

Dear Jon,

Bank of America Downtown Bellingham

 

 

 

 

Nice retrospective on Seafirst (http://www.seattletimes.com/business/remember-seafirst-its-more-than-a-local-tale/), I’d like to amplify your ‘Seafirst echo’. It was a bank with a heart and soul, regardless of customer size. Maybe it wasn’t as warm and fuzzy, as the one depicted by Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life”, but nevertheless warm enough to make this entrepreneur yearn for the past. Four decades ago, while we were on hiatus from pursuit of psychology degrees at WWU, my partner and I were capitalizing on the fad to have a house plant in every room of one’s home with our funky little store in downtown Bellingham. Al Staymey, the Manager of the local Seafirst branch, walked in our store, introduced himself and said that he wanted me to be a customer at the bank. Since I looked like part of the Hippy counterculture, I was dumbfounded and couldn’t say no, which significantly contributed to our long careers in self-employment from a few hundred to 12,000 square feet and from tens of thousands to over two million dollars a year in sales.

It was not just due to the unique initiative of one Manager, but rather it was part of a culture that seemed to care and want its borrowers to succeed. Our first Loan Officer bet his boss a bottle of Scotch that he could get our loan approved. Seafirst offered classes in Small Business Operations to customers, which surely benefited us. When our Loan Officer was relocated, the Manager invited me to interview each of his Loan Officers to decide, which one I preferred. Ultimately, I chose one, who we’ve followed for thirty years through five other institutions since departure from Seafirst, a testament to her skill-set and the financial upheaval of the last ten years. Seafirst also supported local nonprofits organizations with personnel and financial contributions and was helpful to our municipal government in various projects that it wished to advance to benefit our community.

During one of our loan applications, I learned that the Pacific Northwest rated highest in the nation on loan repayment. Clearly, their outstanding corporate ethic was developed and based on sound data. Although our individual experience was indirect, distant and a miniscule connection to the mega-deals that were dragging Seafirst down to selling its assets, that remote connection had a backlash that was much more direct. Loans were harder to obtain and security requirements became much more rigorous. The irony is that we were one of many Puget Sound success stories that contributed to Seafirst coffers and led to their trendy risk taking.

What will future of borrowing be for young inexperienced entrepreneurs? Will it rely on crowd source funding and testing credit-card limits?  Will brick and mortar remain?

Wish you were on KUOW more,

Foster Rose

Greenhouse Downtown Bellingham

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