Union Bank of California is fighting for customers against some stiff competition in Southern California, where large institutions like Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) and Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC) have established a major presence. According to Union Bank's retail market president Joseph Benoit, Union Bank manages to stand strong by acting like a small community bank, in terms of both service and involvement.
"When you call Union Bank, someone picks up the phone," Benoit said. "You can still call our local branches. That's a big deal versus 1-800-I Hope Somebody Answers."
Benoit oversees Union Bank branches for San Diego, Imperial, San Bernardino and Riverside counties. There are 95 branches total in that area, with the bulk, 59, located in San Diego. A San Diego native, Benoit said it's important to him that the bank has a strong place in the community. Employees are encouraged to volunteer whenever they can.
"When they do (give to charity), they don't just give you a check; they lend toil as well," said Scott Alvey, vice president of public policy and communications for the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, of which Benoit is a board member. "It's important to (Benoit) to not just write a check."
Alvey said Benoit is filling some large shoes in taking over from the former local leader of Union Bank, Ron Kendrick, who passed away over the summer after a battle with cancer. Kendrick always encouraged strong community involvement beyond just donating money, Alvey said, and Benoit has continued that tradition.
"Ron set the table and Joseph has very graciously and effectively taken over," Alvey said. "He's the go-to guy for civic deeds and civic involvement ... He's a quiet guy but when he does speak, you listen."
Most Union Bank branches are required to have a community outreach program with a civic or charity organization, Benoit said.
"There's never enough money, but as we reach out in the community we want to make sure that we are always viewed as a very sound community partner," he said. In addition to the chamber, Benoit serves on the boards of The Old Globe Theatre, the YMCA and others. "It's the right thing to do."
There are differences in banking practices in the counties Benoit oversees. San Diego, for example, has a year-round, very diverse economy. Other regions like the Coachella Valley tend to do more business in the fall, winter and spring, as not as many people go there in the intensely hot summers. In San Bernardino, people go there for things like hiking in the summer and in the winter some parts are ski destinations. This affects the kinds of banking residents need.
But ultimately, Benoit said its important for him that everyone be treated the same. His job, he said, is "all about the people."