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Front and Center: Pete Wybourney, Key Bank

Wheat near Wilbur is nearly ripe, meaning bank manager Pete Wyborney will soon spend his summer vacation driving a combine. (Michael Guilfoil)
Wheat near Wilbur is nearly ripe, meaning bank manager Pete Wyborney will soon spend his summer vacation driving a combine. (Michael Guilfoil)

WILBUR, Wash. – Pete Wyborney was on Farm Credit Services’ fast track until fathering instincts kicked in, and he followed the urge to return to the tiny Lincoln County community where he grew up.

The name Wilbur is usually associated with a pig who befriends a spider named Charlotte. The town of Wilbur, population 884, is known for wheat and mysterious “crop circles” that have appeared in recent years.

There’s also the annual Wild Goose Bill Days. This year’s celebration included a chalk-drawing contest and a dog named Nap working a flock of sheep.

Who wouldn’t want to raise a family here? There’s even free, homemade ice cream every Friday during the summer, courtesy of a certain local bank manager.

During a recent interview, Wyborney discussed how banking has evolved and why he’s in no hurry to return to the fast track.

S-R: What were your interests growing up?

Wyborney: Fishing and hunting.

S-R: How about athletics?

Wyborney: That’s something nice about small towns. I was able to play football and wrestle despite not being very athletic.

S-R: Did you have a favorite class?

Wyborney: Not in high school, but at WSU I got into economics and business, and graduated with a degree in agriculture economics.

S-R: Was there a moment where you either chose a direction or changed direction?

Wyborney: I think the first one occurred right out of college, when I joined Farm Credit Services and worked in six offices in seven years, always taking a promotion. The second life-changing event was meeting my future wife in the Dillon, Montana, Farm Credit office, and knowing my hometown was the best place to raise a family. That’s why in 2004 I accepted the job of managing Key Bank’s Wilbur branch.

S-R: Did the skills you learned at Farm Credit transfer to Key?

Wyborney: The biggest thing I learned at Farm Credit was agriculture lending, and that’s a critical factor for this branch.

S-R: How has banking evolved in recent years?

Wyborney: The biggest change has been technology. Now we have online and mobile banking, and I have clients in Spokane I’ll never see or know.

S-R: With so many banking options in Spokane, why would someone there open an account here?

Wyborney: The most common reason is that they like Key Bank, and we don’t have a branch in Spokane. Or maybe they search the Internet for a loan or account with certain features, and find us. We take good care of them when we get them.

S-R: How does this branch compare with Key’s others?

Wyborney: We probably have about the same number of accounts, but we definitely cover a bigger geographic area. We have all of Lincoln County, plus a pocket of business in Spokane.

S-R: Has technology reduced the number of employees at this branch?

Wyborney: Yes. Back in the ’50s, 15 people worked in this building. Now we’re down to four.

S-R: What impact did the recession have?

Wyborney: The biggest impact for me was the increase in federal regulations. Now I have to check a dozen more boxes every time I make a loan or open an account.

S-R: How about impact on the community?

Wyborney: Agriculture tends to move in the opposite direction as the rest of the economy, so while Wall Street was suffering, land prices held and commodity prices rose. And because we don’t have a major employer, we didn’t see huge layoffs.

S-R: How is Wilbur doing now?

Wyborney: As a community, it’s shrinking. I wish that weren’t the case, but it is. We’re down from two grocery stores to one. There used to be multiple gas stations and more Main Street businesses.

S-R: Does new technology threaten the long-term survival of your branch?

Wyborney: It’s true you can conduct banking from almost anywhere, but what hasn’t changed is the people factor. If you have an interesting situation, whether it’s a project or a problem, you still want to talk to a person. I think that’s why we succeed here. I have the time and the desire to help people with their banking.

S-R: What’s your busiest time of year?

Wyborney: For banking in this community, it’s wintertime, which is different than a lot of places. The reason is so many of our clients are focused on agriculture. This time of year, they’re out in the field doing their thing. In December and January, they’re in here taking care of the books.

S-R: What’s your typical workday?

Wyborney: I’m here from 8 to 5, but the doors are open from 9 to 4. Some branches have weekend hours, but we don’t.

S-R: What do you like most about your job?

Wyborney: Lending – specifically lending in agriculture. There’s something satisfying about seeing a new, $300,000 combine roll through a wheat field harvesting grain, and knowing that farmer got a loan from us.

S-R: How big a loan might farmers ask for?

Wyborney: One of the typical things they need is an operating loan. They spend most of their money at the start of the season, and don’t get it back until after harvest. And it costs about $400,000 to operate a modern-size farm.

S-R: What rate do they get?

Wyborney: Generally commercial loans cost a little more than consumer loans.

S-R: What are you most proud of?

Wyborney: It’s neat to know that, even in a little community like this, we can run a successful business. We’ve maintained our numbers, our profitability, and we’ve done it here, where it’s enjoyable.

S-R: From a business perspective, is there any downside to knowing almost everyone who walks through the door?

Wyborney: In a small community, if something goes wrong, everybody hears about it. But there’s a good side to that as well. We’re more careful to treat people right, because there’s no question we’re going to see that person downtown or at a school function. So if we have to turn down a loan, we do it with grace, because they’re our neighbor.

S-R: Do you have a business motto?

Wyborney: Attitude and activities. If you have a good attitude and you’re doing the right activities, things seem to fall into place.

S-R: Do you live in Wilbur?

Wyborney: We did for a few years, and now we live in one of the farmhouses dad has.

S-R: Does your father lease or own the land he farms?

Wyborney: A little bit of both. There’s land that’s been in the family for generations, and my dad takes on leases where he can get them.

S-R: Do you have brothers and sisters?

Wyborney: One of each. My sister is married to a Microsoft engineer and lives in Redmond. My brother retired from the Air Force and is attending Gonzaga Law School.

S-R: What sets your Key branch apart from the other bank in town?

Wyborney: Ice cream on Fridays. When I joined Key Bank, a regional leader suggested I offer clients something here that nobody else does. I knew how to make ice cream, and people love it. It’s not unusual to have 50 people stop in for ice cream.

S-R: When you see people you grew up with, do they treat you differently now that you’re a bank manager?

Wyborney: In here they do. Outside, we’re the same old friends we always were.

S-R: What’s the outlook for small-town banks?

Wyborney: I’m convinced we’ll always be here. Customers can already accomplish everything they need on their phone, yet we’re still prospering.

S-R: Is working in a bank a plum job by Wilbur standards?

Wyborney: Banking is one of the better jobs in the area, that’s for sure. We have very little staff turnover. We’re inside, it’s air-conditioned and there’s health care. It’s a lot better than driving a tractor.

S-R: Yet you do drive a tractor, don’t you?

Wyborney: Absolutely. I help dad on weekends, and next month during harvest I’ll drive a combine for a couple of weeks. I enjoy it. It’s a change of pace and a family tradition. When I leave the field and everything out there – the deer, the birds, the sun and clouds – it takes me a few days of adjustment to the different clothes and different mindset.

S-R: Have you had opportunities to move up in the Key Bank hierarchy?

Wyborney: There are always jobs available, but I wouldn’t leave Wilbur.

This interview was edited and condensed. Spokane freelance writer Michael Guilfoil can be reached at mguilfoil@comcast.net.


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