Gerhart and Odin Stenehjem, along with their cousin Hogan Stenehjem, began their business to fill a need. In 1910 in Arnegard, N.D., there was no bank. So the Stenehjems put up $18,000 and opened Farmers State Bank on May 1, 1910 on Main Street in Arnegard. At that time, down payments could be made with horses and cows and personal promises and handshakes were used to pay debts.
The bank quickly gained a reputation of never losing a depositor’s dollar. When all the banks were forced to close during the 1933 bank holiday, the bank was the only one in McKenzie County allowed to reopen. To this day, says Assistant Vice President Peter Stenehjem, “we always pay 100 cents on the dollar.”
In 1934, Farmers State Bank moved to Watford City, the county seat of McKenzie County. They then changed their name to First International Bank & Trust, wanting their customers to know they could deal with international business as well as local business.
While Watford City may still be the headquarters of First International Bank, they have since expanded to include 21 other banks under their name. The bank currently holds locations in North Dakota, Minnesota and Arizona, four of which are in Fargo. The business is still family run, with Peter working at the 25th Street Fargo location and his brother Erik Stenehjem, Credit Analyst, working at the bank’s Osgood location.
On May 1, 2010, First International Bank celebrated their 100 year anniversary. While today’s banking practices may not involve horses, cows or personal promises, Peter says the company has succeeded because of their history. “We grew up in western North Dakota where we learned the importance of hard work and conservative values,” he says. “The bank has persevered through so many ups and downs. We’ve been through some tough times, but we’ve also been there for the really good times.”
And while the company continues to expand, they strive to keep their Midwestern values at heart. “We’re small town, community minded banks,” Peter says. “We have an excellent source of customers and we want our customers to do well. If we can get them in the door, they’ll bank with us for a lifetime.”
Currently, First International employs 350 people bank wide with approximately 100 of those employees at the four Fargo offices. Peter contributes a lot of the bank’s success to the employees and their involvement. “We have a great staff of employees who do an excellent job at customer service,” he says. “Plus, a lot of our employees are active in the community. As they grow, we grow.”
Ultimately, community is at the heart of what First International Bank does. For their 100 year anniversary, they threw local celebrations with BBQ lunches and a car giveaway. “We help the community develop,” Peter says. “Without a strong community, we wouldn’t be here.”
The bank also works to support local projects and new businesses. “It’s pretty cool to see all the things we’ve helped fund. If you look around, a lot of things wouldn’t be here if we weren’t here,” Erik says. “Bankers tend to have this bad and evil perception. But I think we’re pretty cool.”