Share this story...
Latest News

Building the Pacific Northwest for 100 years

SPONSORED — Picture a city with a population of 300,000, a Stanley Cup victory, newly opened, infamous Locks, and a newly established airline empire. Recognize this place? It’s the Emerald City of yesteryear. Today’s up-and-coming (or arguably already arrived) tech city looked a little different in 1917. While a lot has changed in the past 100 years, there are a few things that have not – like the time-tested approach that Seattle-based Washington Federal has taken to doing business.

The beginning: Brothers in Ballard

It all started with the Kean brothers in Ballard, Seattle’s recently annexed, sleepy fishing neighborhood of the early 20th century. Back then, there were no plaid-shirted hipsters or brunch hotspots around, but there were two local brothers who wanted to better the community by offering safe, steady and sound loans so their neighbors could achieve the American dream – owning their own home.

With the Keans’ initial investment, the bank, then called Ballard Savings and Loan Association, started making small, measured loans to the community, a common sense approach to banking.
How did it work? Deposits were taken from local businesses and residents, then lent out to help businesses grow and residents buy homes. The straightforward approach worked, and it’s still the way Washington Federal operates today – with no middle person, Wall Street bank or insurance firm buying the loans. Instead, the money stays here in the community.

“Who would have thought that Kean brothers’ enterprise would grow to 240 offices in eight Western states, $15 billion in assets under management and one of the strongest financial institutions in America?” said Roy Whitehead, executive chairman of the board at Washington Federal.

Maintaining the soul of a bank

Today, “recession” tends to conger up images of uninhabited developments in the Southwest, the bailing out of Wall Street banks, and streets littered with foreclosure signs. In the 1920s and 1930s, it meant something even worse. Entire banks were collapsing, taking down millions of Americans’ deposits, homes and financial futures with them. Unlike other financial institutions, Washington Federal’s common sense, long-term approach to business paid off and weathered the storm, just like it would more than 80 years later during the 2008 recession.

Throughout the Great Recession, the bank believed in the commitment to serve the community and do what was right by its neighbors. Then-Chairman Harold Kean received a letter from one Depression-era homeowner.

“I am attaching my final payment on my mortgage with correspondence. I can’t relate how appreciative I am for your bank’s helpful and fulsome service.
Through the years you and your staff have always seemed a sympathetic group of folks. I especially want to reference the treatment and compassion you showed my family during the Great Depression.

While other banks had lost their souls to greed and fear, your bank decided to help me and what I can only assume countless other families. We were able to stay in our home and our family might have, quite literally, been saved from perdition. This most generous of acts still warms my heart when I think of it.”

Kean kept the letter long after his retirement, as a reminder of the virtues and principles that set Washington Federal apart from others in the industry, and of the vital need the bank served to the community.

Meeting today’s financial challenges

The same values that prompted Kean to cherish the letter still hold true for Washington Federal. In 2008, the bank established the Mortgage Resource Center, established to help those that had fallen on temporarily difficult times during the recession. As a result of the program, the bank was able to modify mortgage terms and help more than 3,000 families stay in their homes.

“At Washington Federal, we know people want to pay off their loans,” said Washington Federal President and CEO Brent Beardall. “They want to live up to their obligations. We believe you just need to give them the wherewithal to be able to do that.”

This April, Washington Federal is honored to be celebrating its first 100 years in banking, but the commitment doesn’t stop there. In a changing economy and a growing digital age, the bank is excited to partner with the next generation of homeowners, small business owners, commercial real estate developers and community leaders to provide the tools that help local businesses grow, families move into homes and nonprofits continue to serve those in need.

After 100 years, Washington Federal is still helping the Pacific Northwest achieve dreams. Visit Washington Federal online at or call 800-324-9375. Expert local loan officers would be happy to sit down and discuss the solutions that can help you meet your financial goals.

Most Popular