South Harbor Avenue in Freeland might as well be South Whidbey’s Wall Street.
The downtown street has been a hub for business for years, and with the opening of a full service SaviBank branch on Monday, four banks now call a single block on South Harbor Avenue home. Considering Coastal Community Bank and Chase Bank are both within close proximity, that brings the number of banks in the downtown Freeland core to six.
According to Freeland Branch Manager Lauren Pool, there’s still room for SaviBank.
“We felt there was a need in the area for a community bank,” Pool said. “South Whidbey is used to having a local bank, one that knows customers by name rather than as numbers.”
The Burlington-based bank recently upgraded its loan center to a full service branch, now offering checking, savings, commercial and personal loan services. The company aims to utilize the niche market of community banking in order to beat out the competing regional and national banks within a half-mile radius: Whidbey Island Bank / Heritage Bank, Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank and the two aforementioned banks.
SaviBank CEO Michal Cann says the high concentration of financial services in downtown Freeland was considered in the company’s decision to open a full service branch. Despite the cluster of competitors, he believes his company stands out.
“We’re able to provide more community banking and more detailed involvement in the community than our competitors can,” Cann said. “We can do the small community banking better than anyone else in Freeland. We can provide a niche they may not be able to over time.”
Island County Economic Development Council Executive Director Ron Nelson said that as long as the market demands more banks, the six will survive. Considering national and regional banks often offer different services, he said it appears there was room for a local bank such as SaviBank.
Cann and a number of the people working with SaviBank were once with Whidbey Island Bank before it merged with Heritage Bank in 2014, which means they’re familiar with the clientele base. The merger meant Whidbey Island Bank’s main office was moved to Olympia, and only operates under the Whidbey-centric name on the island. Cann says of all the financial service providers in Freeland, SaviBank is the most localized, which allows it to be more competitive.
There are branches in Skagit, Whatcom and Island counties.
Neither Cann nor Pool see opening a full service location in downtown Freeland as a risk. Cann says the community banking market has served SaviBank well, pointing to 33 percent growth in the past year. It’s also the overall economic health of South Whidbey that spurred the company to open a full service branch. Cann says he sees a good economy that’ll continue to grow, as well as a good deposit market.
“We feel there is a lot of business to go around in Freeland,” Pool said. “We call it the financial hub of the South End. Everyone is drawn to Freeland by the businesses: hardware stores, grocery stores and other places that impact people’s businesses.”