First Interstate Bank is Back

Merger Returns Familiar Name to Tucson

By David Pittman

A bank in Tucson has a new name with a familiar ring to it.

Great Western Bank became First Interstate Bank on May 23 when its parent, Great Western Bancorp, merged with First Interstate BancSystem.

Other than a change in signage, it’s difficult for bank visitors to see any difference at the branch at 3002 N. Campbell Ave. There have been no renovations to the bank building, no staff changes, and no policy shifts that would be noticeable to customers. To most, it’s business as usual.

First Interstate Bank had a large presence in Tucson until 1996 when it was bought by Wells Fargo. However, branches in Montana and neighboring states were not part of the purchase and they kept the rights to the name and identity.

Great Western Bank operated in nine states and had 170 retail offices. Combining Great Western with First Interstate creates an operation about twice as large with 320 retail locations in 14 states − Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming.

“The only state where both banks competed directly was a small area in South Dakota,” said Mike Adams, who, as group president at Great Western Bank, ran the company’s Southern Arizona division. There were six retail offices and a single business office. He now has the same job working for First Interstate.

“First Interstate Bank, like Great Western, has always stressed being good community partners,” said Adams. “It’s something we don’t take lightly. Being a good community partner means you’re putting money into the community so families can grow, business can expand, jobs can be created, and the economy of the community can thrive.”

When the merger was first announced, Kevin Riley, president and CEO of First Interstate, called it a historic day for his company. “We are excited for this partnership with Great Western and believe our expansion into this new footprint will continue to build shareholder value over the long term,” he said.

First Interstate BancSystem, headquartered in Billings, Mont., bought Great Western Bancorp in an all-stock merger. The headquarters will remain in Billings.

Although Adams said bank clients on the outside will be unable to see noticeable change, employees will spot changes from the inside. For instance, he said workers from both companies are analyzing various banking systems to determine which organization reflects “best practice” standards recognized within the industry.

“I still have the same boss. I still work with the same credit people and it’s mostly business as usual,” he said. “But there will be change; and the changes that are made will benefit both organizations.”

Adams has some 40 years’ experience in banking in various leadership positions and is something of a veteran when it comes to bank acquisitions and mergers. After overseeing two California banks, he took a job managing some business units at Bank of the West in Northern California.

“When I joined Bank of the West it was a $2 billion bank, when I left 27 years later, it was up to $65 billion because we had several acquisitions,” Adams said. “Being at the forefront of that was fun and I got to travel a lot because I had a job running treasury management sales to people in 19 states. I was on a plane a lot.

“That’s the reason I came to Tucson nearly 14 years ago,” he added. “I wanted to get out of the traffic, get out of California, curtail the air travel and live in a smaller community.”

Banking runs in Adams’ family. His father managed six states for the Comptroller of the Currency in the U.S. Treasury Department.

Adams is a graduate of the University of Oregon where he studied literature. He and his wife, Krystal, have three children, Blake, Mikaela and David. Krystal is chief operating officer at Tucson Federal Credit Union.

“My father told me to go into banking and go through the training and I would learn about all types of industries and I could decide about what to do in life. Forty years later, here I sit. I followed in my father’s footsteps. Banking was in his blood and he put it in my mine.”

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