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First Western, BlackRidgeBANK sign acquisition agreement

Jill Schramm/MDN First Western’s main branch on Broadway in Minot will continue to be headquarters for the banking company following a merger that’s expected to be completed before the end of the year.

First Western Bank & Trust plans to acquire a Fargo-based banking company and expand its operations to 15 locations in 11 communities.

First Western announced this week that its holding company, Westbrand, Inc., has entered an agreement with BlackRidge Financial, the holding company of BlackRidgeBank, whereby Westbrand will acquire BlackRidge Financial and merge the operations under the First Western Bank & Trust name. The acquisition still must be approved by regulators, but approval is expected in the fourth quarter of this year, with all banks coming under the First Western brand in the first quarter of 2020.

Brenda Foster, president & CEO of First Western, said having a banking footprint from Minot to Minneapolis will increase customers’ access to services.

“It gives us an actual physical presence,” she said. “A lot of people say banks are going away, but we just find that our customers really appreciate having the brick and mortar when they need to come in to visit – that they have people in their community they are able to do that with.”

First Western already has an office in Bismarck, opened in 2017, and has been in Eden Prairie, Minn., since 2006. It has three locations in Minot, where the company is headquartered and will continue to be headquartered after the merger.

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/Minneapolis, Alexandria, Carlos, Miltona, Baxter/Bemidji, Crosslake and Nisswa in Minnesota.

Foster said all bank locations will remain open, including in Bismarck, where the combined organization will have a location downtown and in the northern part of the city.

“We need all the locations and all the staff to continue to operate seamlessly,” Foster said.

The wider market also will bring more diversity to the bank’s loan portfolio and deposit base, she said.

“It will give us nice diversity, and the cultures of the two organizations are very similar. They have great people from the Midwest and they really fit in with our team very well,” she said. “They are very involved in their community. Our people are involved in our community. So that will continue in all locations.”

BlackRidgeBANK has 10 branches with 125 employees and total assets of nearly $500 million.

BlackRidgeBANK was founded in 2004, when executives from BlackRidge Financial, a privately-owned bank holding company, embarked on a growth strategy through acquisition of banks in the Baxter and Alexandria regions of Minnesota and the opening of new branches in the Fargo and Bismarck regions.

Foster said BlackRidgeBANK has a strong focus on commercial real estate and mortgage lending. First Western will bring expertise in agricultural lending and its trust department to the combined organization.

“By partnering with First Western Bank & Trust, we access the strength and leverage of a larger financial institution with broad and complementary activities. This positions us for an even more dynamic client-centric future,” BlackRidgeBANK President and CEO Mark Anderson said in a news release. “The inherent strengths in this combination will provide our clients access to a wider array of solutions, drawing on an expanded team of banking professionals, which will notably enhance the growth opportunities for members of our team while further enhancing our market capabilities.”

“BlackRidgeBANK is a very well-respected banking organization,” Foster said in the release. “Our two teams have similar cultures, a focus on superior customer service and a deep commitment to our clients and communities.”

Founded in Minot, First Western Bank & Trust has been a community bank since 1964.

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