Clinton Wells Fargo to close

Clinton will soon be down to just one bank as Wells Fargo recently announced it will close its branch on Highway 525 this fall.

According to an emailed statement, the closure was the result of a decision to merge the Clinton branch with the one in Freeland.

“When determining to close locations, Wells Fargo considers many factors including customer patronage, costs to maintain the branch, and market distribution,” Ruben Pulido, a company spokesman. “Wells Fargo is constantly evaluating our branch network and this process leads to new branch openings, consolidations, expansions, and closures. In this case, we are consolidating our Clinton and Freeland branches due to their close proximity.”

The statement said the branch’s last day is Oct. 4 at noon and invited customers to begin banking at the company’s branches in Freeland and Mukilteo. Branches are also located in Coupeville and Oak Harbor.

Customers were alerted to the pending closure via a letter, and the news quickly filtered out to the business community.

“It was all the buzz at the chamber meeting,” said Janae Cameron, vice president of the Clinton Chamber of Commerce.

Cameron said the closure wasn’t too surprising considering the bank’s rocky past couple years.

Faced with formidable sales goals, company employees around the country made national headlines when they were found to have opened millions of unauthorized checking, saving and other accounts. Last September, federal regulators fined Wells Fargo $185 million over the scandal and company Chief Executive John Stumpf resigned.

Wells Fargo, with a whopping $1.9 trillion in assets, has been trimming its belt ever since. It’s sold off insurance businesses and its shareholder services unit — combined sales were over $900 billion — and, in plans announced early this year, is planning to cut a total of $4 billion in direct expenses by 2019.

According to a Monday story in the Los Angeles Times, the cuts involve closing and consolidating smaller branches, cutting outside consultants and centralizing operations, which could entail moving jobs offshore.

Given the above, Cameron said the closure isn’t an indicator of Clinton’s quest for economic revitalization.

“I think it’s more a reflection on Wells Fargo as a bank than on the health of our community,” she said.

Doug Hofius, secretary of the Clinton Community Council, agreed.

“My guess is it’s mostly a business thing, so I’m not going to lose too much sleep over it,” he said.

Hofius added it’s not too surprising that Wells Fargo chose to retain the Freeland branch over the one in Clinton; the former likely services a lot more businesses and customers, he said.

The larger concern, he said, is getting the empty building filled as soon as possible. Clinton is already struggling with a large number of vacant, and highly visible, commercial spaces. Another prominent empty spot on Highway 525 would be unfortunate, he said.

“It’d be great if another bank came in,” he said.

Wells Fargo’s closure in Clinton will leave the community with just one bank, a Whidbey Island Bank branch.

According to Cameron, most of the public chatter is that another bank is the best fit for the space, though several imaginative ideas have already popped up from people who think outside the box.

“Other people are like, ‘Ooo, a drive-through doughnut shop.’ There’s lots of wild dreams,” Cameron said.

She said a Wells Fargo employee told her the building will likely go up for sale.

The branch was built decades ago for Interwest Bank, which later became Pacific Northwest Bank. It in turn was purchased by Wells Fargo in 2004.

According to the emailed statement, the bank’s history in Washington dates back to 1857. Wells Fargo employs 3,500 people, serves customers from 153 branches and operates 237 ATMs across the state. In 2016, Wells Fargo invested $4 million in hundreds of nonprofits across Washington. Employees donated an additional $1.2 million and volunteered 26,000 hours of their time, the statement said.

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