Sponsored by Lane Powell

Portland's greenest bank walks the line

| Print |  Email
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
0527shorebank17
ShoreBank Pacific CEO David Williams says the FDIC agents were “singing our praises ... and then they beat the hell out of us when we did the exam.”
PHOTO BY LEAH NASH

Ask ShoreBank Pacific CEO David Williams how it feels to be running Portland’s greenest bank these days and he compares it to walking along the edge of a razor blade.

ShoreBank Pacific has been pummeled by bankruptcies in the ethanol industry and troubles at its Chicago-based holding company, which received a chilling “cease and desist” letter from the FDIC in July. A subsequent Portland visit from FDIC agents forced the bank to write off new losses and develop a plan to clean up its loan portfolio.

“They were singing our praises in all sorts of ways,” Williams says of the FDIC agents, “and then they beat the hell out of us when we did the exam.”

Compared to the many regional banks in far worse shape, ShoreBank Pacific remains “enormously liquid,” Williams says. But the bank’s predicament is complex. Because it is wholly owned by Chicago-based ShoreBank Corp., it cannot raise money independently. This leaves Williams trying to convince would-be investors to sign on in theory but to remain patient while things beyond local control get sorted out. Balancing the needs of the bank’s current owners, new potential investors and the FDIC is a whole new endeavor for a banker whose true passion is green revolution.

ShoreBank Pacific billed itself as the nation’s first bank with a pure sustainability mission when it was formed in 1997 by the socially progressive ShoreBank Corp. and the Portland nonprofit Ecotrust. After a sluggish start in Ilwaco, Wash., the bank prospered in Portland under Williams, achieving 11 consecutive quarters of record growth. It moved from the Pearl District into a much larger space at the historic Telegraph Building in the summer of 2008, and also built a branch office in Seattle. Strong relationships with solid local companies and steadily increasing deposits seemed to shelter the institution from the downturn.

“We do it the old-fashioned way,” Williams wrote in his Sept. 30, 2008, letter to stakeholders. “We earn it based on customer success.”

Little did the straight-talking physicist Williams know then that two of the bank’s key customers would soon fail. When the economy collapsed the ethanol industry disintegrated. ShoreBank Pacific, the local lender for two major Oregon ethanol plants that went bankrupt, was left holding the bag.

At first Williams maintained that the ethanol plants would recover eventually. But larger banks in more powerful positions in bankruptcy court did not share his patience. The ethanol picture deteriorated from bad to worse.

Then in July, the FDIC and Illinois regulators warned ShoreBank Corp. to cease and desist from all unsafe and unsound banking practices, and to improve its capital ratios with all due speed. That order was followed by the Portland visit from FDIC agents Williams describes as “loaded for bear.” The FDIC praised the bank’s diversification and its lack of subprime lending, but emphasized the need to clean up its books and improve its capital position. Regulators also forced ShoreBankPacific to write off the ethanol loans. That swung the bank to a loss for the year.

In response, Williams and his bank have foreclosed on the Columbia Gorge Hotel and stepped up the pressure on borrowers backing eco-friendly mixed-use developments in Portland and Astoria. They’ve also been forced to cut back on lending, although they did manage to get behind a new plant in Washington State’s Skagit Valley that converts cow manure into electricity.

On the bright side, deposits continue to flow in from customers who believe in ShoreBank Pacific’s long commitment to sustainability. Williams takes that as a sign that support remains strong for the bank’s core strategy.

“We will get past this,” he says.


BEN JACKLET
 

Comments   

 
sustainable seattle
0 #1 great banksustainable seattle 2009-10-29 07:31:00
As a depositor in ShoreBank Pacific, I've watched them grow from the ground up. They have always done the 'right thing' - for the environment, community, and the people they bank - and are in much better shape than many other banks because of this. Let's all get of the big-bank roller coaster and support community banks like this one.
Quote | Report to administrator
 

More Articles

6 chiefs of staff dish on their bosses

The Latest
Thursday, February 05, 2015
legilistiblog-thumbBY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

We ask chiefs of staff for the scoop on Oregon legislators.


Read more...

Game On

March 2015
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR

The big news at Oregon Business is we’re getting a ping pong table. After reading the descriptions of the 2015 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon, a disproportionate number of which feature table tennis in the office, I decided it was time to bring our own workplace into the 21st century. It was a tough call, but it’s lonely at the top, and someone has to make the hard decisions.


Read more...

MBA Perspective

February 2015
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
BY KIM MOORE

Robin Anderson, dean of the Pamplin School of Business, University of Portland: "You need people who are comfortable leading in ambiguity."


Read more...

Where do Portland demographics rank among the largest 50 cities in the US?

The Latest
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
thumbpdxinperspectiveBY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

The Portland in Perspective study, done by the City Budget Office, was released Tuesday.


Read more...

That's Not a Watch (This Is a Watch)

February 2015
Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Smartwatches are all the rage. But old-fashioned timepieces keep on ticking.


Read more...

The 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon

March 2015
Thursday, February 26, 2015
BY KIM MOORE | OB RESEARCH EDITOR

Employment in Oregon is almost back up to prerecession levels — and employers are having to work harder to entice talented staff to join their ranks. This year’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon project showcases the kind of quality workplaces that foster happy employees. 


Read more...

10 Twitter highlights from #OR100Best

The Latest
Friday, February 27, 2015
100bestBY OB STAFF

Oregon Business held its  22nd annual 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon celebration Thursday night in the Oregon Convention Center.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS