Seattle's "Communities" Banker: Pat Redmond's Viking Bank Crew Shows How a Community Bank Can Ply the Waters of Many Diverse Communities Successfully, Serving All as They Need to Be Served

Article excerpt

Pat Redmond steps onto the bow of the family 40-foot, twin-screw trawler Gratitude, having handed the helm over to his wife, Ann.

He surveys the harbor of Ballard, Wash., with a look of satisfaction, even something of a boyish grin. It is a look that says, sure, I have an office, but look where I get to work.

Ann keeps the boat moving slowly past wharfs and moorings. Both know their way around a wheelhouse. The couple lives on a canal--and Redmond actually bought Gratitude for Ann.

"This is the workingman's Seattle," says Redmond, on the deck, waving his hand to show the expanse of the harbor with hundreds of vessels. "Work is getting done here!"

Redmond clearly is a man who feels at home here in this arm of Salmon Bay. In fact, all the way down the western leg of the Lake Washington Ship Canal--leading to the Ballard harbor--Redmond has been talking about the buildings and companies based alongside. He's been speaking like any community banker, who can reel off stories about all the merchants on Main Street, or all the farmers in their county.

And why not? For much of the original clientele of Redmond's $338.5 million-assets Viking Community Bank, this is Main Street.

"We cover the waterfront"

Viking Bank, which ABA Community Bankers Council Chairman Redmond serves as president and CEO, started in 1992 when Dr. Thorpe Kelly, having received bad service from a downtown Seattle bank, decided Ballard, a neighborhood north of downtown, needed a bank. He gathered a diverse group of investors, including Kaare Ness, owner of a fishing fleet and a processing factory. Ness retired as vice-chairman last year, but Kelly continues as chairman.

Kelly established his medical practice in Ballard in the 1960s, and grew to admire the local fishermen and the hardworking dockyard types. "They were upfront people; everybody paid their bills," says Kelly. "When they worked, they worked their heads off. They are my kind of people."

Redmond joined the bank in 1996, as president, after the bank's first president fell ill. After a long career at what became the First Interstate organization, Redmond, then head of the Washington state corporate banking operation, found his employer being merged into Wells Fargo. He and Ann love the Seattle area, and when he heard of the vacancy at Viking, it was a natural. "I'm a loan guy," says Redmond.

"When we first started off in Ballard, we were mainly a maritime bank," says Kelly. "Aquaculture"--commercial fishing and crabbing, that is--was the core of the young bank's loan portfolio. Even today, as the bank continues to expand further into commercial real estate and C&I lending, maritime lending represents about 11% of the portfolio, mainly vessel purchases, upgrades, and repairs.

Who has the right?

Ballard's waterfront has plenty of atmosphere but not much of the usual touristy waterfront scenery. One or two vessels wouldn't look out of place in a 1940s film noir. What you see are working vessels, with massive winches and cables and floats on decks. No frou-frou anywhere. The beauty is that of the utilitarian, the well-worked machine, and you can tell that Pat Redmond, like Dr. Kelly, has a deep respect for the people who make it function, and for the vast amounts of domestic and foreign capital engaged.

The Alaska fleet calls Ballard home. Vessels that work some of the world's roughest waters depart through the Ballard Locks on their way to Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean beyond. Redmond says that if you've eaten a fish sandwich recently, chances are one of the ships he's passing caught its contents. In fact, it's quite possible Viking financed the boat.

The Ballard waterfront's colorful atmosphere also produces some memorable characters. One is also a founding director of Viking Bank: Warren Aakervik, Jr. He's a man with a face like a bespectacled, whiskery walrus, the working outfit of an oil-rig roughneck, and the financial acumen of a Wall Street commodities trader. …