Local View: First Indy’s sale offers continuity, promise



On Monday, First Independent Bank announced that it will be purchased by Sterling Savings Bank. While there is no denying that this is a big change for our community, it is in fact a continuation of the philosophy and commitment that First Independent founder E.W. Firstenburg and his family have always had.

Throughout its 101-year history, First Independent constantly evolved to ensure that the people and businesses of Southwest Washington were served by a stable, sustainable, community-focused bank. Through lean years and prosperity and more than one recession, including the most recent global financial and economic crisis, First Independent has delivered reliable, convenient, solutions-oriented banking products and services to our region.

Equally important, the bank and the Firstenburg family have played a leadership role in promoting and supporting critical community assets, from our first-class health care and education institutions, to nonprofits serving children and families in need, to arts and culture organizations that help define and celebrate who we are.

These commitments — including decades of business and civic local leadership, and enthusiastic involvement in strengthening the fabric of our community — will be honored under a new name. The First Independent people we know and work with and live next door to will continue to work in the organization, providing the community-focused banking that we have expected and appreciated from First Independent, and now under the banner of Sterling Savings Bank.

I am a longtime resident of Southwest Washington, an active part of the business community here and a member of the First Independent board of directors. I can say unequivocally that I feel confident this upcoming change of ownership is yet another positive step in the evolution of community banking for Southwest Washington.

With consumer confidence in big national banks lower than ever, the need for community-focused banking is vital. As the First Independent board and the Firstenburg family considered the future, it became clear that Southwest Washington would be more effectively served by a bank with, frankly, greater resources than First Independent can bring to bear. So we set out to find a buyer who shared First Independent’s values and vision for the kind of communities the bank has always tried to create.

The right fit

Sterling is the right fit of culture and capital to continue the legacy started by E.W. Firstenburg. Like First Independent, Sterling is a Washington-based organization focused on providing products and services comparable to a large regional bank but with the personal relationship touch of a true community bank. With more than $9 billion in assets, Sterling has the strength to keep growing in communities throughout the West, investing in technology that today’s banking customers demand and providing credit and deposit products that allow local families and businesses to achieve their goals.

The decision to sell First Independent to Sterling was more than a financial analysis. With a complementary track record of supporting its communities through philanthropy and volunteerism, Sterling shares the values that are dear to the Firstenburg family and First Independent. In fact, Sterling recently was honored as the recipient of the Washington Secretary of State’s 2011 Corporations for Communities Award. Community organizations can feel confident that their initiatives will continue to be well supported by Sterling.

And, as the First Independent banking business will become part of Sterling, the Firstenburg family will continue to be involved in other family businesses. Bill and Bruce have assured us they will continue their long tradition of community philanthropy through the Firstenburg Family Foundation.

Change — or even the perception of change — can feel unsettling. But it can also be exhilarating, as new possibilities present themselves. I am looking forward to welcoming Sterling Savings Bank as an active partner in our community and watch as we continue to grow and prosper together.

Stephen W. Horenstein of Vancouver is a business and real estate lawyer and serves on the First Independent Bank board of directors.