Tacoma's Columbia Bank board declares two dividends at annual meeting

Tacoma News TribuneApril 23, 2014 

Turning 21 in August, Tacoma-based Columbia Banking System held its annual meeting on Wednesday and surprised shareholders with both a regular stock dividend and a special dividend.

In an anniversary mood, William Weyerhaeuser, Columbia board chairman, told the assembled group of some 200 guests, “It’s been a remarkable journey.”

The board announced Wednesday that shareholders would receive regular quarterly dividend of 12 cents per share, and a “special cash dividend” of an additional 12 cents per share.

Recalling the formation of Columbia Bank in 1993, President and CEO Melanie Dressel told the group that on opening day, “we gave away a lot of hot dogs.”

And she asked, “How did we get to where we are today?”

Her answer: organic growth and the acquisition of other, smaller banks in Washington and Oregon.

In 2009, as the recession began pummeling banks, bankers and the overall economy, Columbia had 53 branches. Today, count 80 branches in Washington and 60 in Oregon, and the bank has earned seventh position by size in both states behind larger banks including Bank of America, Wells Fargo and US Bank, among the top three in each state.

True to her mantra and her goal to become the best community bank in each of the communities Columbia serves, Dressel introduced a retrospective of Columbia’s TV commercials, each emphasizing the bank’s high-touch sensibilities.

“I feel hugged by my bank,” one person featured in a commercial proclaimed. “I love my bank,” said several more. “I have a warm, fuzzy feeling,” said another fan.

Noting the importance of the local economy to the bank’s success, Dressel said small business clients “are a lot more optimistic this year” than last year. “We’re lucky,” she said, “to live right here in the Pacific Northwest.”

“Our priority,” she said, “is to remain a true community bank.”

The shareholders and Columbia employees who visited the meeting at Hotel Murano seemed satisfied, and none stepped to a microphone to ask questions as the meeting concluded.

Among the first-quarter numbers released Wednesday:

• Net income for the quarter came in at $19.8 million, or per-share earnings of 37 cents.

• New loans for the quarter were over $210 million, the second consecutive quarter when new loans totaled in excess of $200 million.

 • Total assets at the end of the quarter were $7.24 billion, an increase from the $4.9 billion recorded a year before.

• Total deposits at the end of the quarter were $6.04 billion, an increase of $84.9 million from the end of December.

• Troubled, nonaccrual loans increased $2.4 million during the quarter.

• Noninterest income – including income from fees – totaled $14 million for the quarter, compared to $1.7 million in the first quarter of 2013. The primary reason for the increase, according to a bank statement, came from “service charges and other fees resulting from the increased customer base from the acquisition of West Coast (Bank).”

Concerning that acquisition, which closed a year ago, Dressel stated, “We have completed the planned consolidations of overlapping locations as a result of the West Coast acquisition


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