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Close-Up: Bruce Ives

On an island of its own: Coronado First Bank aims high in pursuit of growth

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As Bruce Ives sees it, a bank's success lies in its ability to give its customers something unique. That's why Ives, president and CEO of Coronado First Bank, has built the Coronado-based community bank on a platform of cutting edge technology coupled with a service-oriented approach to business relationships.

"Really what separates us from the larger bank competition is the level of personalized service that you are going to receive banking with a bank like ours," said Ives, whose bank specializes in serving small to mid-sized businesses throughout San Diego County. "When you walk in the door, someone is going to call you by name. We are a relationship bank, so we are establishing relationships that are consultative rather than those that are reactive or transactionary."

Bruce Ives

Ives, the former president of Cuyamaca Bank, helped establish Coronado First Bank when it opened in October 2005, hoping to capitalize on the fact that Coronado -- what he calls a "longtime and definable geographic community" -- was without a community bank. Since then, the bank has offered a wide array of loan services to San Diego businesses, ranging from construction loans to aircraft wholesale loans to home loans. While most loans are under the $3 million level, Ives said the bank can issue loans in the $6 million to $7 million range. Furthermore, it offers several other products like online banking and traditional checking accounts that are crucial to smaller businesses.

With the goal of becoming "the premier independent bank in San Diego County," the bank has strived to overcome its fledgling status by focusing on providing customers with state-of-the-art technology, said Ives.

"We utilize technology to the fullest extent possible to mitigate the fact that we only have one branch here on the island," said Ives. "With the advances in technology over the last couple of years, we were able to implement the latest and greatest technology to mitigate the lack of branch effect."

Aside from offering a traditional online banking system with services for transferring funds, authorizing stop payments, and detailing account activity, Coronado First is in the process of implementing what Ives called "remote deposit capture." This feature, which Ives expects to be unveiled within 30 to 45 days, will allow businesses to process checks from their place of business by using a scanner that captures the information electronically and subsequently credits their account. This, along with other forthcoming developments, gives Ives confidence in his bank's ability to address a client base that "runs the gamut."

Law offices, accounting firms, manufacturers, nonprofit foundations and "mom and pop" stores all comprise the bank's clientele. And while the bank is relatively small -- it reported $25 million in deposits for the most recent quarter -- it has continued to grow through customer referrals: something Ives considers critical in gauging a bank's reputation.

"The biggest form of flattery is referral in this business, and we do receive a lot of referrals from customers that we've taken care of," said Ives.

Pamela Molohon, controller of High Performance Aircraft and Southern California Piper, said that what Coronado First Bank may lack in size it makes up for in its ability to treat every customer "as if you're their only customer."

"It's like having a banker at your door," said Molohon, whose El Cajon-based aviation sales organization sells and maintains new and used aircraft. "They are willing to do the more cutting-edge stuff, and in this day and age that is important. They have the top customer service people in the country from any of the banks I've dealt with." In particular, Molohon appreciated the bank's method of compensating customers for its lack of ATMs by reimbursing customers for using other ATMs.

Molohon also noted that the community-sized bank offers aircraft wholesale lending -- something that even some larger banks do not provide.

Steve Wampler, executive director for Camp Wamp Inc., a nonprofit corporation that runs a camping adventure program for underprivileged and physically challenged children, spoke glowingly of the bank's personal touch.

"The minute you walk in the bank, everyone knows your name, and everyone cares about what they can do for you," he said. "It's the best customer service I've ever had at a bank."

The bank's success in becoming the "premier independent bank" in San Diego will hinge on two factors, Ives said: its financial performance and its reputation. While Ives is pleased with its growing reputation, he also pointed to its positive financial growth. He noted that, since its inception in October 2005, the bank has reduced its operating loss every quarter. When asked about the bank's goal of achieving profitability within two years, Ives said, "That is our number one goal, and that is what we plan on accomplishing."

The bank will not be without its challenges. Ives said that with rising interest rates, deposits are becoming more difficult to secure as some customers choose to divert funds to money market accounts. Furthermore, training programs for commercial lending underwriters have diminished with the increased emphasis on technologically driven credit reports. To produce seasoned commercial lenders, and to equip employees to compete in a "stringent" regulatory environment, will require greater emphasis on training, Ives said.

However, Ives, whose father and grandfather were both bankers, sees customer service as the X-factor in succeeding amidst what he calls a "vibrant" local economy.

"Our number one focus is servicing our clients and ensuring them that we're here for the long haul."

McRoskey is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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