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Bank on It: Building the Pacific Northwest for 100 Years

Wanting to better the community by offering safe, steady and sound loans, the Kean brothers opened the Ballard Savings and Loan Association in 1917. Today, 100 years later, Washington Federal is still invested here.

A population of 300,000, a newly-won Stanley Cup, the opening of the infamous Ballard Locks, and the establishment of airline empire Boeing – recognize this place? It’s the Emerald City of yesteryear.

Today’s up-and-coming tech city looked a little different in 1917. While a lot has changed in the past 100 years, there are a few things that have not – like the time-tested approach Seattle-based Washington Federal has taken to doing business.

Brothers in Ballard

It all started with the Kean brothers in Ballard which was, at that time, Seattle’s recently annexed, sleepy fishing neighborhood. Back then there were no plaid shirts or brunch hot spots to be found. Instead, there were two locals who wanted to better the community by offering safe, steady and sound loans so that their neighbors could achieve the American dream of owning their own homes.

With the Kean’s initial investment, the bank that was then called Ballard Savings and Loan Association started making small, measured loans to the community. They called it a “common sense” approach to banking.

Deposits were taken in from local businesses and residents, and then turned into loans that would help other businesses grow and other residents buy homes. It’s pretty straightforward, and it’s still the way Washington Federal operates today – there’s no middleman, and they don’t sell their loans to a Wall Street bank or insurance firm. The money stays right here, in our local communities.

Maintaining a Bank’s Soul

Today, “recession” tends to conger up images of uninhabited developments in the Southwest, the bailing out of Wall Street banks and streets littered with foreclosure signs. In the 1920s and 1930s, it meant something even more serious. Entire banks were collapsing, taking down millions of Americans’ deposits, homes and financial futures with them.

Unlike other financial institutions, Washington Federal’s common sense, long-term approach to business paid off and weathered the storm – just like it would over 80 years later during the 2008 recession.

Throughout the Great Depression, the bank believed in its commitment to serve the community and to do right by its neighbors. Then-Chairman Harold Kean received a letter from one depression-era homeowner.

“I am attaching my final payment on my mortgage with correspondence. I can’t relate how appreciate I am for your bank’s helpful and fulsome service.

Through the years you and your staff have always seemed a sympathetic group of folks. I especially want to reference the treatment and compassion you showed my family during the Great Depression.

While other banks had lost their souls to greed and fear, your bank decided to help me and what I can only assume countless other families. We were able to stay in our home and our family might have, quite literally, been saved from perdition. This most generous of acts still warms my heart when I think of it.”

Kean kept the letter long after his retirement as a reminder of the virtues and principles that set Washington Federal apart from others in the industry and as a sign of the vital role the bank played in helping its community through hardship.

Meeting Today’s Financial Challenges

The same values that prompted Kean to cherish that letter still hold true today. In 2008, Washington Federal established the Mortgage Resource Center to help those who had fallen on difficult times during the recession. As a result of the program, they were able to modify mortgage terms and help over 3,000 families stay in their homes.

This April, Washington Federal will celebrate its first 100 years in banking, looking back at the values that have seen it through to today and looking forward to find new ways to support its community.

Embracing a changing economy and a growing digital age, Washington Federal is excited to partner with the next generation of homeowners, small business owners, commercial real estate developers, and community leaders to provide the tools that help local businesses grow, empower families move into homes, and allow nonprofits to continue to serve those in need.

What’s your dream? Big or small, Washington Federal can be your partner for the journey – just as it’s partnered with other individuals and businesses over the past 100 years. Visit or call 800-324-9375 to speak with a local loan officers and learn how Washington Federal’s solutions can help you meet your financial goals. NMLSR #410394

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