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Meet Your Banker: Barbara Cooch

Meet Your Banker: Barbara Cooch, Senior Vice President, Columbia Bank

Editor’s note: WSDA recently started the Preferred Lending Program through The Source, a program designed to connect lenders specializing in dentistry with WSDA members. Columbia Bank is our newest preferred lender. 

Columbia Bank Senior Vice President Barbara Cooch has a long history in banking, and despite the fact that we live in a youth-obsessed society, that’s a good thing. You see, Cooch knows there are more important things than numbers on an application. She still believes in face-to-face meetings, educating dentists who want a loan, in creating trust. That’s important in dentistry, where associates interested in purchasing a practice often have significant student debt, no collateral, and don’t look particularly good on paper. “Banks,” she explained, “typically want to see collateral along with the requisite paperwork and credit check, and dentists don’t have big trucks to sell if the business goes under. You have to have a senior credit officer who has a strong understanding and faith when you go into business with high achievers like new dentists because they tend to have negative net worth and no secondary support.” Columbia Bank is willing to leverage high achievement in place of collateral. “We look for character, which can be hard to quantify. It’s not a science, it’s an art," she says. Cooch has some flexibility with credit scores and debt loads, and says that authenticity, integrity, and honesty go far with her. Still, there are cases even she can’t solve, and when that happens she refers them to other options, or recommends they wait a bit. An additional guarantor is always an option. 

Specializing in Dentistry
Cooch started in banking back when Bank of America was Seafirst. She managed a Seafirst branch in Redmond and inherited a small portfolio of dentists from a previous banker. Her niche was born. “I wanted to specialize and focus on doing one thing really well,” she says. “I gave it a year to see if I could do it with the bank. One year led to six, another six years at Cascade and now eight years with Columbia. They offered to bring us as a team, offered our clients Private Banking, and more importantly, offered a very strong credit culture that understood cash flow lending."

Regional vs. National Banks
A regional bank with 22 years experience and over 145 branches in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, Columbia Bank has advantages the large banks don’t. “We have control, and we can create opportunities to provide an experience that is much more personal,” says Cooch. “We don’t need to call North Carolina to get account information. It’s the community-based way of banking. Almost everyone I talk to on the phone within the bank is someone I’ve met in person, so if there is an issue with a product or a service I have someone I can call, as do all the bankers and the support staff here. We know people, which enables us to problem solve, which is very difficult when you’re at a larger bank.” Additionally, not all banks will do 100 percent financing. Columbia Bank has had a good history and the risk has been limited. 

The Current Market
Cooch’s take on today’s market? “We are going to see interest rates go up again when the world economy settles down, although it might not be as quickly as some predicted, and when they do practice values may go down again. Dentists who are thinking about selling in the next five years might want to consider selling sooner rather than later. There is a shortage of opportunities in the market at the moment, you may be able to sell at a premium price, and the interest rates are low. We expect the interest rates to rise, and while we would have thought sooner, issues like China and historically low oil prices have stalled that for now.” And for younger dentists, she advises, “Get started early. We offer 'lunch and learns' to help educate people, and we’re available to WSDA members so that we can meet and become familiar with each other.” Additionally, Columbia Bank offers many other professional and personal services including investments, financial planning, and more, and Cooch is more than happy to talk with you about those. Already have someone handling that aspect of your portfolio? That’s fine, says Cooch, who says she honors the relationships you have with other providers. “But give us a chance,” she says, “we think you’ll like the personalized service we offer!”

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