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First Western Bank & Trust to complete BlackRidgeBANK merger Nov. 16

First Western makes union with BlackRidge official Nov. 16

Jill Schramm/MDN TOP: BlackRidgeBANK’s Amanda Miller of Bismarck, left, trains on First Western Bank’s software with First Western’s Lisa Hiatt Oct. 27 at the main Minot location. Minot has hosted a number of BlackRidge employees as the two institutions have worked on a merger over the past year.

It has taken more than a year for details to fall into place, but on Nov. 16, the merger between First Western Bank & Trust and BlackRidgeBANK will become official.

Regulatory approval from the Federal Reserve came toward the end of 2019. Since then, Minot-based First Western and Fargo-based BlackRidge have been working to merge their two systems, from computer software to policies and procedures.

“It’s been a busy year, but it’s gone really well,” said Brenda Foster, president for First Western in Minot. “We’ve been really really fortunate to have such a great group of people from First Western and BlackRidge coming together.” Even with the interruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have hit their deadlines and stayed on track, she said.

The completed merger will happen with a conversion to the same mainframe computer system, starting the evening of Friday, Nov. 13. They will officially be one business when doors re-open Monday, Nov. 16, with First Western signage on the BlackRidge buildings.

BlackRidge customers will be getting new debit cards and credit cards with the First Western name but will be able to continue using existing check blanks until those supplies are exhausted.

Jill Schramm/MDN The familiar First Western logo shown on the bank’s main location along Broadway in Minot will be going up on additional branches in several new communities with the completion of the merger with BlackRidgeBANK Nov. 16.

“They may see some different checking and savings options available to them. But as far as the people that they’ve always known and worked with, they are still there,” Foster said. “That’s a nice piece because it’s all about the relationship that you create with your customer and the trust that they put in you.”

Existing First Western customers won’t see much change. However, they will have access to more ATM locations and office locations, including in Fargo and a second location in Bismarck, where First Western already had a presence.

“As our customers are traveling, they can do business in more locations than ever before and get the same great service they’re used to getting. The cultures of the two organizations are very similar – very customer friendly, customer oriented,” Foster said.

BlackRidge was founded after five former executives from Community First Bankshares set out in 2004 to create a privately owned bank holding company. They began looking to acquire banks that shared their passion for banking with a hometown flavor. Their first bank acquisition was in the Brainerd Lakes area of Minnesota and further expansion in Minnesota followed. Locations opened in Fargo in 2007 and Bismarck in 2008.

First Western, founded in 1964, announced in July 2019 that its holding company, Westbrand, Inc., had entered an agreement with BlackRidge Financial, the holding company of BlackRidgeBANK, whereby Westbrand would acquire BlackRidge Financial and merge the operations under the First Western Bank & Trust name.

With the merger, the combined organizations will have assets of nearly $1.7 billion, with more than 300 employees in Minot, Bismarck, Fargo and West Fargo in North Dakota and Eden Prairie, Alexandria, Carlos, Miltona, Baxter, Crosslake and Nisswa in Minnesota.

“But Minot remains the headquarters,” Foster said. “Of course, we remain committed to all the communities that we’re in as far as volunteering and monetary donations. All of that remains the same because we are always committed to the communities that we serve. If the communities do well, then the businesses do well.”

Foster looks forward to the culmination of the work that has gone into the merger.

“It is exciting to see that and be able to offer the First Western name farther than Minot but still know that the headquarters is here. We’ve just built a great base here in Minot – so thankful for our customers that have supported us over the years and our shareholders. That’s allowed us to expand into other areas and grow our business,” she said. “We’re growing, but we’re still the bank that knows our customers and offers that local service and quick turnaround with our lending function. We pride ourselves in being able to get back to our customers very quickly on decisions, and that will remain in place.”

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