Phil Castle, The Business Times
Jeff Taets likes to tell the origin story of five people who believed there was a place in Western Colorado for what he describes as a community bank — a locally owned and operated institution that understands and meets the needs of its customers.
Rather than try to find just such a bank at which to work, the five decided to start their own. They initially opened locations in Grand Junction and Aspen, then subsequently added a third location in Montrose.
In the nearly 12 years that’s followed that decision, Timberline Bank has not only bucked a trend of consolidation in the banking industry, but also thrived in the face of stiff competition and sometimes challenging economic conditions.
Moreover, Timberline Bank has gained a measure of recognition along the way, most recently as a one of the latest winners in an annual awards program that honors Colorado companies for demonstrating high performance in the marketplace through innovative products and processes.
“It’s a really fun story, and we’re very proud of it,” says Taets, one of the five founders and president of Timberline Bank.
Timberline Bank was among 50 firms named Colorado Companies to Watch for 2016. The winners were honored in June during a gala in Denver. Timberline Bank also was honored in a separate celebration in Grand Junction.
Taets says the award is gratifying. “It helps us feel like we’re on the road to accomplish our mission.”
The Colorado Companies to Watch award was the second recognition this year for Timberline Bank, which also was named the U.S. Small Business Administration Colorado Rural Lender of the Year.
“We’ve had a pretty good run here,” Taets says.
Launched by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and Trade in 2009, the Colorado Companies to Watch program honors second-stage companies for developing products and services that create jobs, promote innovation and contribute to their communities. The 50 companies that won awards in 2016 earned a total of $503 million in annual revenues and employed the equivalent of 1,913 full-time employees.
Taets says Timberline Bank meets the criteria for the program with not only its own growth, but also the growth the bank has promoted in Western Colorado through lending.
The bank has about $250 million in assets and employs a total of 42 people in its three locations — 27 in Grand Junction.
That kind of growth is especially notable, Taets says, given Timberline Bank started from scratch in October 2004.
Taets is among three brothers who joined with two others, including an outside investor, to launch the bank. Of the five, Mike Taets serves as president of the Timberline Bank in Aspen and Jim Pedersen serves as chief financial officer. The outside investor remains a member of the board of directors.
Jeff Taets says he and his brothers had worked at other banks, but recognized a niche in Western Colorado for a locally owned and operated community bank. They opened locations in Grand Junction and Aspen in 2004 and in Montrose in 2006.
“We are by every sense of the word a community bank,” Taets says. The people who work at the bank live in the communities they serve, establish long-term relationships with their customers and develop an understanding of their needs, he says.
Timberline Bank is different, too, in that employees are also owners and, as such, bring that perspective to customer service. “When you’re talking to an owner of the bank you get treated differently.”
When customers come to the bank to talk with someone about a loan, they’re meeting with the people who not only make the decisions, but also strive to figure out a way to say yes, Taets says.
One way they can say yes, Taets says, is by taking advantage of loan guarantee programs offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The SBA doesn’t make direct loans through the programs. By guaranteeing repayment on a portion of the loans, however, the federal agency enables lenders to extend financing to businesses that might not otherwise quality under conventional terms, Taets says. SBA-backed loans also offer lower down payments and longer fixed rates for interest.
As an SBA preferred lender, Timberline Bank can make quick decisions on SBA-backed loans as well as quickly process the paperwork, he adds.
For the 2015 fiscal year, Timberline Bank remained the top SBA lender in Mesa County with 11 loans worth a total of nearly $8.2 million approved through the 7(a) general loan guarantee program. That accounted for the bulk of the 18 loans worth a combined $9.2 million the bank issued statewide under the program.
For the 2014 fiscal year, Timberline Bank issued 12 loans backed through the 7(a) program worth a total of nearly $1.7 million.
In recognition of its services to small businesses in the communities it serves, the SBA named Timberline Bank its Colorado Rural Lender of the Year. The award was presented in May as part of Small Business Week.
James Van Horn, lead lender relations specialist with the Colorado District Office of the SBA, says Timberline Bank impressed the agency in dedicating 50 percent of its SBA loan portfolio to rural lending.
“We were really proud of that SBA award,” Taets says.
During the recession, when many businesses were struggling, Taets says Timberline Bank worked with borrowers to extend their terms and figure out other ways to offer them more affordable payments until conditions improved. “Those businesses are the stronger businesses we have today.”
In the end, the bank lost little money, strengthened relationships and since has grown faster as a result, he says.
Taets also credited the success of Timberline Bank to its employees and a culture that promotes development and continuity. As owners, employers are empowered to change policies and procedures as needed to serve customers.
Employees are encouraged, in fact, to complain, Taets says. But they’ll also can expect to head up the committee that’s subsequently formed to address the problem.
“They’re not employees. They are team members who have a seat at the table,” he says. “Those kinds of people are why we have success.”
As part of winning the Colorado Companies to Watch award, Timberline Bank will play a greater role in nominating other companies for the award. Taets hopes to draw attention to more Western Slope firms.
Meanwhile, Taets says he’s grateful for the way the origin story of Timberline Bank has turned out.