Bank joins international group

Vogelaar: Community First bank slated to change its name

Community First National Bank in Steamboat Springs became part of an international banking conglomerate this week when BancWest Corp. announced it had reached an agreement to pay $1.2 billion for all of the stock of Community First Bankshares Inc.

Community First Bankshares is the parent company of Community First National Bank, trading shares on the Nasdaq Stock Exchange. It has 155 branches in the West and Midwest, the bank at 555 Lincoln Ave. among them.

BancWest is a holding company that has been a wholly owned subsidiary of BNP Paribas since 2001. BNP Paribas, based in Paris, has banking interests all over the world, including Brazil, Austria, Algeria, Costa Rica, Cuba, Egypt, Greece, Hong Kong and many more.

Dean Vogelaar of Community First in Steamboat said the name of the Steamboat bank would soon change to Bank of the West. That is the name of two principal subsidiaries held by BancWest, the other is First Hawaiian Bank. Bank of the West has 296 branches in six Western states. After the acquisition, BancWest will have $44 billion in assets and serve 3.4 million accounts through more than 500 branches in 17 states, Guam and Saipan.

BancWest paid $32.25 per share for Community First stock -- the shares were trading at $32.12 at the end of the day Thursday.

Steamboat Community First Vice President Rhonda George said although BancWest is a privately held company purchasing all of Community First's stock, it is not taking the company private. BNP Paribas is a publicly held company trading on the Paris Exchange and owns many privately held companies. Someone purchasing shares of BNP Paribas would, by extension, be buying shares of Bank of the West, she said.

BancWest president and CEO Don McGrath gave assurances, in a written statement, that the acquisition will not alter local decision-making capabilities at the different branches.

"Although the sign on the door will change, Community First customers will find the same familiar faces in their branches," McGrath said. "Community First has a philosophy of local decision-making, supporting their communities and building long-term client relationships -- a perfect match for Bank of the West."

McGrath added that there is virtually no geographic overlap among the existing branches of the different companies, eliminating redundancy and potential cutting of branch locations.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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