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Monday, Aug 8, 2022
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From the Trenches: Bank Leaders Share Their Stories

It’s been a rough two years since the financial meltdown of 2008. And it has been a learning experience for local bankers. The Business Journal contacted several heads of local institutions to ask them what has happened at their banks the last many months, how they’re doing currently and what their plans are for the future. Some executives declined to participate in our project but others were willing to answer questions. Here are three local top executives who wanted to share their thoughts. They are Dave Malone of Community Bank, David Rainer of California United Bank and John Feldman of First Commerce Bank. At presstime, Feldman’s bank announced it was merging with Grandpoint Bank, which has offices in downtown Los Angeles and Orange County. What has been the most significant decision you’ve made in the past two years that was critical to the bank’s health? Dave Malone, Community Bank: I think that about three years ago we made a decision to not be very active in construction lending and that’s ended up being a very good decision for us. I think from my perspective, capitalizing on the bank’s 65-year history and tradition and basically making ourselves better known in the marketplace is something that’s been really very positive for us. David Rainer, California United Bank: I think that our willingness to continue expanding and open several new offices, really aggressively going out and recruiting some top bankers in mass that have been available was kind of a bold decision for us because it was opportunistic. When First Regional Bank went under there were a number of really top bankers available and we very quickly made the decision that we would make the investment in that team and it’s already paid off nicely for us so that, if anything- if you’re looking for one decision- that would be it. We clearly went against the grain, when most banks were retracting and inwardly focused, we continued to look outward and we saw opportunities for growth. John Feldman, First Commerce Bank: Not to have been in the residential real estate market. As a commercial bank we made the decision not to go down that path and it turned out to be fortuitous. What is the most challenging aspect of running a bank today? Malone: Balancing what the general public believes that banks are doing versus what we’re actually doing. In the case of our bank there’s a lot of public sentiment that banks aren’t lending money and banks are not your friend and it couldn’t be more to the contrary. We’re actively looking for clients; we’re very interested in participating with them as a financial partner, so the general public sentiment is generally much different from what my bank is doing. Rainer: I think really staying on top of all the credit, monitoring the loans, asset quality. As the economy kind of languishes out there, businesses go up and down and I think it’s really very important for us to stay on top of our loan portfolio and how it’s performing. Feldman: Making good commercial loans when it appears that some lenders are returning to the same underwriting standards that got them into trouble two or three years ago, we find it very competitive for good quality commercial loans. How would you describe your bank’s experience through the financial meltdown of the past two years? Malone: What I like to say is we operate in financial markets we don’t dictate what happens in them, so during the course of this last recession our profits were down but still we were very profitable last year and I think that if anything our philosophy -and the expression we use is we jealously guard our right to make our own mistakes, we’re selective about what we do. I think that’s given us an opportunity to get through some really turbulent financial times in way that certainly our earnings were impacted but we didn’t post a loss in any other quarters during the more turbulent times so we think that speaks really positive about the bank. Rainer: I would say we’ve been very successful and we’ve been able to continue on a path of growth that we had set out before the problems hit and not only have we been able to continue growing but it’s accelerated. So we’ve been able to kind of weather the storm and actually take advantage of opportunities that the storm created to really accelerate our growth. Feldman: It became very difficult three years ago and two years ago, which the bank addressed, and resolved the problems that resulted from that. How can your bank best help Valley businesses? Malone: First and foremost I think businesses should not be reluctant to talk to bankers about what their ambitions are. I think coming to a bank and sharing their financial picture both historically and their projections for the future is a very positive way of forming a partnership with banks and in our case, we’re just not lenders, we view ourselves as being consultants to businesses. We have very experienced people who provide years and years of experience that allow us to work with businesses. People think the only talk is about lending, well in today’s world that’s not entirely true, clients should be thinking about optimizing their financial condition by way of treasury management services, how do they manage their cash, are they taking full advantage of electronic banking platforms that optimize their efficiency? Rainer: I like to think we’re doing that every day. We’re committed to serving the San Fernando Valley, we could have gone anywhere five and a half years ago to set up our first office but we picked the heart of the San Fernando Valley because day one we made a commitment that we wanted to be a bank that would serve the community both in terms of the basic banking and also in terms of supporting the community through our efforts to get involved with a lot of non-profits. To answer the question, we’re here, our doors are open everyday, our bankers are on the street, we’re looking to make loans and service deposits, we haven’t retrenched at all, we’ve actually added people and have expanded, so it’s just a matter of us getting out and making the right connections out there. Feldman: By providing business services they need which includes commercial business loans, service for their personal banking needs, depository services, remote deposit capture and other services.

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