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Hispanic bank hot on coast

By   /   Thursday, June 12th, 2008  /   Comments Off on Hispanic bank hot on coast

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Bienvenidos, Banco BuenaVentura.

Although the Oxnard-based Banco BuenaVentura, in formation, has yet to receive approval to operate as a chartered financial institution, the company opened its doors to customers this month, offering document, small business loan and mortgage services in the interim.

Proposed President and Chief Credit Officer Rick Rodriguez said he hopes to receive the bank’s charter and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. approval and celebrate Banco BuenaVentura’s grand opening in line with Mexican Independence Day in mid-September.

The proposed bank will utilize bilingual and bicultural staff to cater to Ventura County’s heavily Hispanic population, complete with a staff member to serve customers that speak Mixteco. Rodriguez said Banco BuenaVentura intends to assist all segments of the community, from high-net-worth individuals to the “unbanked.” In addition to traditional banking services, Banco BuenaVentura will offer its customers safety deposit boxes, translation services, long-distance calling, and financial education, among other services.

“We think we’ll do well by doing good,” Rodriguez said. “Like every other bank, we have products and services we want to offer, but there is also a lot of knowledge we want to share. I think education will be the key to progress for many people we serve.”

The company is currently in the process of compiling materials to address mortgage and credit counseling, small business education, financial literacy and bank product information. The proposed bank has begun to form alliances with various organizations, including local colleges, to implement this education. For example, Rodriguez said he plans to have area graduate students run seminars for business owners.

“What we need to do is just gain the trust of people who don’t use banks … because trust will be, in essence, the foundation upon which we build the bank,” Rodriguez said.

The proposed board consists of: founder and Chairman James Montgomery, whose background includes time running Great Western Bank; Rodriguez; Alfredo Placencia, founder of Lazer Broadcasting; Bob Murphy, retired president and CEO of FNF Capital; and Nelson Hernandez, community development director for the city of Ventura.

As its executive staff, the proposed bank plans to appoint Diana Rios-Sherwood as its chief financial officer; Armida White as senior vice president of the mortgage department; Bob Holguin as senior vice president of the small business administration, or SBA, and commercial loan departments; and Yvonne Duarte as senior vice president of branch operations.

Rodriguez said it was more difficult than he expected to find senior-level management for the bank, though Banco BuenaVentura has now secured a staff that fits in with its mission.

“Part of what we want is to have an atmosphere where all the employees are bicultural and bilingual and have a passion for the social work we plan to do,” Rodriguez said. “It was a little harder to find top management, but we now have employees that are … dedicated to the success of the bank and the people we will serve.”

Rodriguez said the company primarily would utilize word-of-mouth to reach new customers, as well as radio and print advertising and some billboards. Banco BuenaVentura may consider television advertising, he said.

But thus far, the word-of-mouth technique has proven successful for Banco BuenaVentura. Rodriguez said the bank already has some loans in the pipeline.

“I think the Hispanic community is a community that is growing exponentially. They represent a large portion of the market, for not only banking, but all products,” Rodriguez said. “Businesses and people are beginning to see that this market can be lucrative.”

That may be why other banks in the region are making similar efforts. Coast Hills Federal Credit Union of Lompoc recently reported that its north Santa Maria branch offers an all-bilingual staff as well as bilingual marketing materials and product information. In addition, it is reaching out to the area agricultural workforce with education and financial assistance. San Luis Obispo-based Mission Community Bank announced in April that 12 employees have completed a Workplace Spanish for Banking course offered by Cuesta College.

Expected to boast a private banking center and mortgage, document preparation services and small business administration departments in addition to the regular bank, Rodriguez said Banco BuenaVentura is already too big for its current digs in the former Bank of A. Levy building and is in the process of purchasing the neighboring space.

He also said he would consider eventually opening smaller satellite branches in other small, agricultural cities in the region, such as Salinas.

But right now, Rodriguez is just focused on the task at hand.
“As beautiful as this bank is, I think what we’re doing here is even more beautiful,” he said.

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