Portland's greenest bank walks the line

| Print |  Email
Archives - November 2009
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

Quake as metaphor

Linda Baker
Tuesday, July 14, 2015
071515-earthquakia-thumbBY LINDA BAKER

The Big One serves as an allegory for Portland, a city that earns plaudits for lifestyle and amenities but whose infrastructure is, literally, crumbling.


Read more...

The Private 150: From Strength to Strength

July/August 2015
Monday, July 13, 2015
BY KIM MOORE

Revenues in Oregon's private, for profit sector maintained solid growth as the economy continued to rebound.


Read more...

Flattery with Numbers

July/August 2015
Friday, July 10, 2015
BY JOE CORTRIGHT

The false promise of economic impact statements.


Read more...

Business partnerships: taming the three-headed monster

Contributed Blogs
Monday, July 06, 2015
070615-businessmarriagefail-thumbBY KATHERINE HEEKIN | OB GUEST COLUMNIST

Picking a business partner is not much different than choosing a spouse or life partner, and the business break-up can be as heart-wrenching and costly as divorce.


Read more...

Child care challenge

September 2015
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
0927OHSUhealthystarts-thumbBY KIM MOORE AND LINDA BAKER

Child care in Oregon is expensive and hard to find. We delved into the numbers and talked to a few executives and managers about day care costs, accessibility and work-life balance.


Read more...

Ranking the airlines that fly PDX

The Latest
Friday, August 14, 2015
airlinesthumbBY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

17 airlines make stops at Portland International Airport, but not all are created equal when it comes to customer service.


Read more...

Reader Input: Road Work

March 2015
Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Oregon's roads are crumbling, and revenues from state and local gas taxes are not sufficient to pay for improvements. We asked readers if the private sector should help fund transportation maintenance and repairs. Research partner CFM Strategic Communications conducted the poll of 366 readers in February.


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