Saturday, September 19, 2020

Pandemic-driven loan load keeps local bank busy

Daily Inter Lake | August 11, 2020 1:00 AM

There might be no such thing as too much business during a pandemic, but AJ King at Three Rivers Bank thinks the small community bank might be getting close. Since March, the local bank’s two Kalispell branches have been hustling to help other local businesses get the resources they need to stay afloat.

“It’s probably the most challenging times I’ve seen in my 35 years of banking,” said King, CEO of the locally owned institution.

With only 50 local employees, Three Rivers Bank has processed more than 250 of the newly authorized Payment Protection Program loan applications since the federal Small Business Administration opened the program April 3. The initiative is intended to provide grant funding to small businesses who have lost revenue as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That’s a lot for our small bank,” King pointed out. “It’s a real balancing act.”

Three Rivers Bank has been overwhelmed with first-time loan applicants and new customers, including local residential real estate clients, businesses refinancing their loans and some out-of-state entrepreneurs. “People want to do business with our locally owned community bank,” King noticed. “We’ve gained some new customers. That’s all positive.”

But at the same time, he said, “We’ve got a lot of work in front of us.”

At the end of 2019, Three Rivers Bank had $169 million in total assets. In June, King said those assets had increased to $210 million. Even though they will likely settle back down to around $190 million as some loans are forgiven, King reported, “it’s phenomenal growth…in a short period of time.”

It’s also been a phenomenal undertaking for the Three Rivers Bank staff. The PPP rolled out at the beginning of April and Three Rivers Bank quickly had to learn the ins and outs of the new program to help clients access their funds.

But that process is still ongoing three months later. “There are still unknowns,” King related. “There are still questions that are unanswered. That’s been very frustrating.”

Equally challenging is the ever-evolving outlook on COVID-19 and federal response to mitigate its financial fallout. “We felt like we were coming out of this thing,” King reported, but SBA loan applications reopened on July 6 after closing on June 30.

“Things keep changing,” he observed.

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at (406)-758-4459 or