Linda Thomas began her banking career 37 years ago as a part-time teller. In that time, she’s worked almost every bank position, forged long-lasting relationships with clients and colleagues alike, and weathered seven bank mergers.
So when she had the opportunity to join California Community Bank as its executive vice president and Escondido regional branch manager last October, Thomas said it was a natural destination on her career path.
“It feels like I came home,” Thomas said. “I love what I do, and I enjoy people. We’re a good fit because, like me, they enjoy helping people to become a success. The credit culture fits my kind of small business clients.”
The community banking model has long appealed to Thomas.
“I like the idea of everything being local. Any loan request, I have an answer to them within 24 hours,” said Thomas. “I’ve got customers that started banking with me in the 1980s. When they outgrow me – as in, when their business starts to need services or lines of credit out of our legal lending limit – that’s exciting to see that I helped them achieve that. I’m sure any number of bankers could say the same. It’s bittersweet.”
A graduate of Mira Costa College and Oceanside High School, Thomas had originally planned to become to a physical education teacher. She took a teller position as a favor to a friend, and fell in love with the work, she said.
“It’s still coaching people, so I enjoy that,” she said.
She kept local, banking in North County for a predecessor of Union Bank and the former La Jolla Bank & Trust, as well as Rancho Santa Fe National Bank, Bank of Commerce, Temecula Valley Bank and its acquirer, First-Citizens Bank and Trust. In most instances, a merger is a sign of a community bank’s success, according to Thomas. Larger regional banks see a local community bank as an attractive addition to their portfolio.
That was the case with most of the bank mergers Thomas witnessed over the years. The notable exception was the failure of Temecula Valley Bank, which was shut down in July 2009 by state regulators and handed over to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Temecula Valley Bank’s 11 branches were acquired by North Carolina-based First-Citizen Bank and Trust.
“It was still a good acquisition, just under negative circumstances,” Thomas said.
Meanwhile, California Community Bank is a relatively young bank -- having commenced operations in August 2003 -- that has begun to show a net profit. With four San Diego branches, the bank reported a fourth-quarter 2010 net profit of $544,000, with a full-year 2010 net profit of $1.67 million.
By comparison, California Community Bank had a net loss of $235,000 in fourth-quarter 2009, and a net loss of $552,000 for full-year 2009. The bank reportedly has an asset base of almost $222.2 million.
“At least here in Escondido, we’ve seen some glimmers of improvement in the economy,” Thomas said. “Hopefully we can continue to bounce back, and people will start spending money with our clients again.”
The banking industry has felt the impact of the economic downturn, as more regulations are enforced and loans are sometimes difficult to grant. A transaction that once required three or four documents now necessitates 15 or more, Thomas said.
“Banking is different, in the way someone has to open an account, there’s more regulations that we have to adhere to. It makes it a little more challenging for the customer,” Thomas said. “Lending is a challenge, too, as a lot of the loan requests that we’re looking at, our clients have seen a decline in their profits.
“The economy is hitting everyone.”
Thomas said she’s been fortunate to keep many of her regular clients over the years, particularly as the volume of paperwork increases. “It isn’t a simple task to move a banking relationship,” she said.
Thomas expects to have many more years in the banking industry.
“Retirement will come when this is no longer fun. Banking has been very fun. It still brings me a great deal of pleasure.”
McEntee is a San Diego-based freelance writer.