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San Diego community business banking on the rise

Approximately five years ago, there was an explosion in community banking in San Diego.

After years of out-of-town mega-bank acquisitions, many local bankers saw the need for locally owned, responsive community banks that provide relationship banking and are aimed at the huge market of small- to medium-sized businesses in San Diego County.

1st Pacific Bank of California started the new wave of banks in late 2000, followed by Sunrise Bank of San Diego, Regents Bank, Landmark National Bank, Security Business Bank, Legacy Bank and Discovery Bank, to name a few.

Filling a void

"There was a void in the earlier part of this decade in business banking in San Diego," said A. Vincent Siciliano, president and CEO of 1st Pacific Bank. "Business managers and entrepreneurs were looking for personal relationships, for quick, local decisions and for bankers who knew the San Diego region. At the same time, the larger, national chain banks often didn't have the ability or desire to service the small- to medium-sized business person."

Led by a strong local board and experienced management, 1st Pacific Bank sought to fill that void, and with impressive results. After raising $11.5 million in an initial public offering, the bank opened its doors Nov. 17, 2000, on Regents Road in La Jolla.

During the past year, 1st Pacific Bank reported an increase in total assets to $230 million, implemented its first two-for-one stock split, won Peter Barron Stark & Associates Inc.'s Workplace Excellence award and was named California's 2005 de novo (operating less than five years) "Bank of the Year" by the Findley Reports.

Since its founding, the bank has expanded to four branches and is preparing to launch its fifth in 2006.

When queried about this impressive performance, Siciliano credits a simple but powerful philosophy.

"Our mission is to build relationships that create significant results for our clients," Siciliano said. "That, simply put, is the reason we exist."

Siciliano said that a San Diego-based bank has many advantages over larger, regional and national banks, not the least of which is personal service.

"The relationship a business manager/owner has with a business banker is one of the most vital aspects of the health and future of a business," Siciliano said. "Ideally, your banking relationship will be as long-standing as your business and will serve you through the years as your business thrives and grows."

Critical mass?

Now, many industry observers wonder, how many community banks can our region support?

"There will always be mergers and acquisitions, and certainly some local banks will outperform others," Siciliano said. "However, there are more than 15,000 small- to medium-sized businesses in San Diego County and there will always be a need for knowledgeable bankers who offer superior client service."

The real critical mass, Siciliano adds, is not so much the number of clients, but the number of talented bankers.

"The key to success is always people," he said. "We've grown quickly, but never at the expense of having the top banking talent in place. For example, we were ready to open in East County - to add to our four other branches - but wanted to wait until we had the people in place. There's only so much banking talent to go around, and we've prided ourselves on finding and retaining the best."

Active in the community

As 1st Pacific Bank continues to develop its own internal community of seasoned bankers, it has also reached out to the local community by providing "Business Solutions Seminars" and donating seminar proceeds to local nonprofit organizations.

1st Pacific Bank created the "Business Solutions Seminars" to help small- to medium-sized business owners find the right resources to stay competitive and improve their business strategies. A recent seminar focused on customer service with author Ken Blanchard. Proceeds from that event went to the American Red Cross.

1st Pacific Bank's next seminar will be Oct. 12 and will focus on the economic outlook for San Diego and beyond in 2006. Speaking at this year's event are Arthur Laffer, Ph.D., one of the nation's most respected economists, and Roger Hedgecock, a local political expert and radio host.

Proceeds from the upcoming event will benefit the Girl Scouts San Diego-Imperial Council Inc.'s Urban Campout, "Under Construction: Building Tomorrow's Leaders," an annual fundraising event to help children throughout San Diego County.

Cao is an account coordinator with Nuffer, Smith, Tucker Inc.

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