First Mutual Bancshares Inc., the Bellevue-based holding company for First Mutual Bank, opened its tenth full-service branch this week in Kirkland.

The branch, at 278 Central Way, is situated two blocks from Lake Washington. It is the first new branch the company has opened this year. A grand opening is scheduled for the middle of the month, after which work will begin in earnest on opening No. 11 in Juanita, says John Valaas, First Mutual’s President and Chief Executive Officer.

“We have already secured the site,” he said. “Our next task is to finalize the staffing and tenant improvements.”

First Mutual CFO Roger Mandery tells GlobeSt that the branch likely won’t be opened before the end of the year. The company has been opening one or two branches a year as of late, he said. In addition to its branches, First Mutual also operates loan production offices in Tacoma, Washington and Salem, Oregon.

First Mutual’s operating income is primarily derived from commercial real estate lending activities, though it also writes consumer and small business loans and sells a broad range of financial services. Its average commercial loan is less than $1 million, and often supports the purchase of small office and industrial buildings, apartment complexes and strip malls.

Historically, its asset quality has been among the best in the industry, with non-performing assets representing just 0.06% of total assets at year-end. At mid-year, however, non-performing assets were an uncharacteristic $2.9 million, or 0.48% of total assets. A $1.9 million loan for a commercial real estate project in Oregon represented 63% of total dollar amount, but has subsequently been cured.

The bank’s commercial lending activities are also off a bit through the first half of the year. Instead of beating the $171 million it achieved during the first half of 1999, only $107 million was handed out through the first half of 2000.

“We would like to do a lot more,” said Mandery. “We have the capacity, we just don’t have the applications.”

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