January 29, 2023
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Dubroff: City National CEO describes strategy behind $5.4B RBC deal


The stunning announcement that Royal Bank of Canada will pay $5.4 billion for City National Bank sent a bit of a ripple through the Central Coast’s banking community.

After all, it’s an amazing cash-out for the Goldsmith family, which still owns about 13 percent of the 61-year-old company it founded. The price represents the sort of premium that speaks to pre-recession days.

Locally, City National is about to open its long-awaited wealth management office in Montecito and it’s been steadily growing its retail, commercial and wealth management presence in Ventura County. 

But over the long haul, the biggest impact will be on the entertainment and media industries where the synergies between City National, long a favorite of Hollywood stars, and RBC are extremely powerful.

And it is that combination of a bigger footprint for legacy City National and a much greater reach into entertainment that was a big part of a phone conversation with City National CEO Russell Goldsmith on Jan. 27. He talked a lot about the fit between the biggest bank based in Southern California and Canada’s largest financial institution.

“They have a large wealth management business and a large capital markets business. What are missing are the private bank and the business bank, and that’s what attracted them to City National,” said Goldsmith, who has promised to remain with the combined company for three years after the acquisition closes late in 2015. “Put the three legs together and you have a dynamic national platform.”

Overlooked in some media reports is the fact that with the former Dain Rauscher brokerage firm as part of its existing U.S. footprint, RBC has a strong presence, particularly in the West and Midwest. And its investment bank is a global leader in a number of businesses, particularly media and entertainment.

I know a bit about that because RBC owns the former Daniels & Associates firm in Denver, which sees or participates in just about every major cable television deal that comes down the pike.

When it comes to private banking, City National’s offices in Beverly Hills, New York, Nashville and the Bay Area handle the personal accounts of any number of entertainment and media types. But it takes the capital of a much bigger bank to actually take a lead role in financing a film studio. And with more than $800 billion in assets and an AA credit rating, RBC is a big player.

“I recently talked to a studio head who personally banks with us and RBC has a much bigger credit line with the company,” Goldsmith said. “We are not playing the game at that level.”

Moreover, Toronto and Vancouver are big media production centers in their own right. “When this thing closes, we’ll make it seamless and easy for Americans who are doing pictures [in Canada] to bank through RBC and City National.”

In terms of the transaction, City National shareholders will get to elect whether they want RBC shares or cash, but Goldsmith said the deal is basically a 50 percent cash and 50 percent stock deal for RBC.

For City National’s regional presence, a merger is not going to alter its plans to open a wealth management office on Coast Village Road in Montecito in February and continue to expand its footprint in Ventura County.

Goldsmith, who has been watching developments such as Rick Caruso’s Miramar Hotel project work through the approval process, said he’s going to continue to chair the Los Angeles Coalition for the Economy and Jobs, a broadly based business advocacy group. “We could do so much more without spending a lot of money,” he said, adding that the coalition is also working to improve “the experience and capacity” of Los Angeles International Airport.

One of the tricky points, he conceded, is maintaining the City National brand as it operates more and more under the RBC umbrella. “We’ll find an artful way to combine the two in some way,” said Goldsmith, who hinted that over the long haul City National might export its private banking expertise to RBC’s operations in London and the rest of the English speaking world.