Ric Odegard does not look like fission material. He looks like the banker he has been for Seafirst Bank for 29 years, a tenure that will conclude with his retirement August 1.
But the state’s largest bank, which marked its 125th year with a Spokane Ag Trade Center luncheon Wednesday, will split Odegard’s duties as manager of commercial lending in Eastern Washington between two new executive vice presidents, John Wagner and Geanie Aldrich.
Wagner will handle Eastern Washington from his Spokane base, Aldrich Central Washington from Yakima.
Odegard said the decision to divide the territory reflects increased competition and the distances that must be covered to ensure the face-to-face contact that remains the essence of commercial banking.
Smaller units will also ease a transition to interstate banking if, as expected, federal barriers fall within the next year or two, he said.
Odegard weathered two major transitions while at Seafirst. The first was its acquisition by BankAmericorp in 1983, when sour oil and gas loans made through an Oklahoma bank brought Seafirst close to failure.
In 1992, Seafirst was merged with Security Pacific Bank, another major commercial lender.
Odegard said he takes pride in the way the Seafirst “family” held together under the stresses created by Seafirst’s near collapse, and in the way Security Pacific employees were accommodated during that transition.
“That marriage probably went off about as good as it could have,” he said, crediting Wagner for integrating Security Pacific’s commercial lenders into Seafirst’s operation with a minimal loss of customers.
Another high point during his term was the recruiting that brought Sea first’s bank card service center to Spokane in 1989, along with several hundred jobs.
Odegard said he will wind up most of his many civic activities in the coming weeks, then take six months off. His only plans beyond that call for “pounding nails” for Habitat for Humanity, a cause the bank has embraced in Spokane.
But he added that he expects other opportunities to develop.
Odegard described the Spokane banking market as “a war,” but one waged by ethical opponents who work together when the good of the community is at stake.
“Too often corporations are in it for the publicity instead of what’s right,” he said.
Wagner, who joined Seafirst in 1977 after four years with Norwest Bank in his native Montana, said competition for commercial loans from non-banking sources is driving innovation by banks.
Banking by telephone and computer, just 1 percent of the market now, will boom in the future, he said.
While Seafirst is a leader in adopting new technologies, Wagner said, the bank must also exploit the personal relationships that enable it to reach customers outside its nominal service territory.
Neither he nor Odegard know if Seafirst will retain its identity - unique among BankAmericorp subsidiaries - as interstate banking is implemented.
But both said people are more important than name to the success of the franchise.
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