First Interstate Bank of Billings, Montana, has owned Bank of the Cascades since May 30 but is just now flipping the switch on its merged operation, converting customer accounts and unveiling its new corporate identity.

On Monday, customers will start using First Interstate ATM/debit cards, and the public will see TV, online and print ads introducing First Interstate as a company, spokeswoman Cynthia Lyle said. First Interstate paid $541 million for Bend-based Bank of the Cascades, which has $2.6 billion in deposits and 48 branch offices in Idaho, Oregon and Washington, so the Montana bank needs to keep as many customers as possible.

“The success of retaining customers is in the attitude and energy the employees have,” First Interstate CEO Kevin Riley said during a visit to Bend in July. “The attitude is off the charts. The energy is off the charts.”

Riley is confident that customer retention will be high because First Interstate kept most Bank of the Cascades employees, especially those who work directly with customers. Approximately 550 former Bank of the Cascades employees joined First Interstate. The two banks’ territories didn’t overlap, so there won’t be any branch closings, Riley said.

First Interstate laid off 81 Bank of the Cascades employees.

“I’ve been with these guys 40 years,” Mike Fassett, owner of Red Carpet Car Wash in Bend, said of Bank of the Cascades. Fassett is going to stick with First Interstate because there haven’t been any changes in personnel who work with his business line of credit, daily cash deposits or personal accounts. “They’ve been very nice, and they were before,” Fassett said Thursday, as he walked into a branch at Revere Avenue and Third Street, where temporary signs covered new First Interstate signs.

Customers could leave for other reasons, and First Interstate has plenty of competitors who would like to scoop them up. Selco Community Credit Union has seen more than the average number of new accounts opened for this time of year, said Mike Stanley, Central Oregon area manager. Branch managers and employees report that many of the new customers came from Bank of the Cascades after they were notified about First Interstate’s terms and fee structure, he said.

Bank of the Cascades customers complained that First Interstate requires regular checking account holders to maintain a $500 minimum daily balance to avoid fees, and First Interstate charges a fee for ongoing negative account balances, Stanley said.

He hopes to see another wave of new accounts after First Interstate’s conversion goes live, and customers see the impact of a new fee schedule in their statements. “Not everybody reads what comes in the mail,” he said.

First Interstate has also anticipated a delayed reaction from Bank of the Cascades customers and set up a dedicated support line: 855-342-3400. There will be a grace period of one statement cycle for customers to adjust to account balance minimums and other requirements, Lyle said.

Banking with an institution headquartered in Oregon is important to some people, so although Selco’s headquarters is in Eugene, the credit union is ready to capitalize on its reputation as a local entity, Stanley said.

So far, First Interstate has not lost enough clients to raise concern, Lyle said.

Riley said First Interstate learned from past acquisitions and has been more proactive about ensuring a smooth transition. “We’ve really upped our game,” he said.

Bank of the Cascades employees have spent more time training on the First Interstate system, and the bank held in-person training sessions for complex business customers.

First Interstate is a bigger bank — it has nearly $7 billion in deposits and 78 offices in Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota — and Riley thinks it can offer former Bank of the Cascades customers better technology.

Jill Smith of Bend said she hopes that’s true because since moving to Bend from California, she’s been disappointed in Bank of the Cascades’ technology. She said she had to visit the bank in person Thursday to put money in her mother-in-law’s account, something she could do online with a national bank.

“I’m hoping with the transition it’s a better bank,” she said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7860, kmclaughlin@bendbulletin.com

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