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Valley Bank plans merger
January 15, 2016 Jerry Purvis   

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Valley Bank and Trust Company announced over the next several months, they have agreed to a merger with Laramie based Wyoming State Bank to become Western States Bank.

Valley Bank founder and CEO John Stinner has been a big advocate for local ownership of local community banks. He said the new company will remain a local bank, but are combining with another bank to create what he believes to be a better bank.

Stinner, now a State Senator from District 48, is still an investor in the bank and will continue serving on the board.

All current board members will remain in the newly merged bank. “So much of the banking industry is about complying with federal regulations, which can be costly,” Stinner said. “Banks have to get to a certain size to absorb those costs.”

He said that on a combined basis, more diversification will allow the new bank to better serve its customers. The bank will continue to concentrate on ag banking and small business loans. They’re also planning to enter the commercial real estate market.

“This is an opportunity to diversify and create a stronger bank,” Stinner said. “With size, we have additional resources to commit to product development and consumer communication to create a better working environment for everyone.”

He added that from the employee side, the proposed merger will allow them even more opportunities for professional development.

Valley Bank has Nebraska branches in Gering, Scottsbluff, Bayard, Ogallala, Grant and Wauneta. Valley Bank operates as Western States Bank in Fort Collins and Loveland, Colo.

Currently, the company services approximately 13,000 customers. In addition to its Laramie headquarters, Wyoming State Bank has two branches in Cheyenne.

The new Western States Bank will have $57 million in equity with total assets of $525 million.

“We’ve been discussing this merger for about a year,” said Gary Crum, President and CEO of Wyoming State Bank. “The core values of both banks are virtually the same. We have a huge commitment to our employees, our customers and our communities.”

He said that as a community bank, they want to be strongly involved as a partner in each community the bank serves.

Craig Ockers, President and CEO of Western States Bank, said size does matter in the banking industry, as the merger will create a bank that’s more than a half billion in size. He added that because of the banks’ shared common core values, a bigger bank will still be the hometown bank people have come to trust.

Ockers said that every bank branch will provide local decisions, local answers and local service.

That translates into being more than a bank, but a company that will work with people in both good and bad times.

Crum said that between Laramie and Cheyenne, to Fort Collins, to Gering and Scottsbluff and Ogallala to the east, the entire region is a common trade area.

“This merger really helps us pull together the markets we serve,” Crum said. “There are a lot of common customers within that trade area.”

Crum added the merger will create a stronger bank that’s committed to delivering the highest level of service, cutting-edge technologies, and the hometown banking values and benefits that customers count on.

“We’re making a huge investment in technology,” Crum said. “We’ll offer all the bells and whistles people see on the TV ads, from mobile banking to remote deposits. We’ll also have larger lending limits for our business customers to help them grow.”

Even with all the improvements, customers will still have the same local banker they’ve seen before.

“We want to be an active player in helping all of our communities grow,” Crum said. “If the community grows, we grow with them. So we’ll do everything we can to facilitate that growth.”

Stinner said that overall, the merger is a big plus for the entire area as the new bank will be more diversified and stronger in each of its communities.

“From the customers’ standpoint, they shouldn’t see any significant changes,” Stinner said. “Because of product and service development, they should see an even better situation. Online banking is still evolving and we’ll be in a position to take advantage of the latest products and services.”

Stinner added that everyone who currently works for the bank will remain. “You win with the group that you have over a long period of time,” he said. “We certainly want to keep those people in place.”

The boards of directors for both banks have unanimously approved the agreement. Still ahead for the bank is to get shareholder approval, which should be sometime in February. They must also go through the formal approval process with federal bank regulators, which could be completed by the summer of 2016.

“Bank account numbers will stay the same for all our customers, whether in Nebraska, Wyoming or Colorado,” Crum said. “They can continue using the checks they have now, so this merger will be a seamless process.”

The new bank is one of the first to use the domain .bank for its website. Their address is wsb.bank. Because of the domain is reserved for banks, increased security protocols are in place.
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