The shifting financial industry landscape has set the stage for increased competition among regional banks trying to snap up local talent and a slice of the mid-size company market.
However, some industry experts think the newly consolidated landscape and shrinking number of small banks could close the door on many entrepreneurs and smaller businesses.
“For one, there are very few new banks and the number of banks nationwide is on the decline,” said banking industry veteran and California Lutheran University Center for Economic Research Executive Director Bill Watkins. “The regulatory environment to start a community bank is essentially impossible. That’s left a market vacuum and larger banks are starting to move in.”
While the increased competition over the mid-size market might be good for a small number of businesses, it also might be harder for smaller companies to find the financing they need to expand, he added.
The Central Coast has been a ripe market for region banks to cherry pick from over the last several years and there are a handful of new players that have decided to enter the market for the first time.
In March, Ontario-based Citizens Business Bank hired Donald Toussaint as executive vice president and regional manager to lead that institution’s expansion in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties.
Christopher Myers, president and CEO of Citizens said the business bank’s newly opened center in Oxnard represents a strategic expansion.
A veteran business banker, Toussaint previously served as executive vice president and division manager at Rabobank, where he established and led the bank’s statewide middle market division.
The hire is an example of how regional banks are accessing new markets. The strategy is to acquire smaller banks or try and poach the local knowledge and expertise that already exists in the market.
“We had always been looking at expanding our presence in the Ventura County and Santa Barbara markets,” Myers said. “We were just waiting for the right team to help get us there.”
The attraction, he said, was the number of small- to medium-sized privately held businesses. Citizens has long had a presence in the San Fernando Valley, but a move up the coast was the next logical step.
“We don’t like to leap frog one market to the next,” Myers said. “It takes time to establish the management and team building to cover the footprint … this was the next market up for us.”
The new Oxnard branch is a team of just six, but has entered the market with the backing of parent company CVB Financial Corp., which has assets of about $7.4 billion.
Still, Myers said everyone in the banking landscape is an acquisition target, noting that even regional banks like Citizens are becoming more scarce.
The acquisition of Santa Barbara Bank and Trust by Union Bank and Los Angeles-based City National Corp.’s sale to Royal Bank of Canada are signs that deals large and small are in the works.
Additionally Bank of the Sierra recently announced plans to open a new loan production office in Oxnard, further marking the San Joaquin Valley-based banks entry into Ventura County. The office is slated to open in May.
The new office is Sierra’s 29th location and follows the November 2014 acquisition of Santa Clara Valley Bank and its branches in the nearby cities of Santa Paula, Fillmore and Santa Clarita.
“Continued loan growth plays a key role in our ability to attain the bank’s short and longterm strategic goals, and ultimately, return to shareholders,” Bank of the Sierra President and CEO Kevin McPhaill, said in a release. “In the five months following our Santa Clara Valley Bank acquisition, very strong loan growth potential is evident in Ventura County, and the new [loan production office] will help us meet the lending needs in that area.”
According to Sierra’s executive vice president and chief banking officer Michael Olague, the new Oxnard office is a natural fit to the bank’s the existing franchise in the region. Having experienced solid loan activity in the area, the bank is looking to capitalize on the leverage of its acquisition.
Functions at the new office located on the 17th floor of the Topa Financial Plaza tower on Esplanade Drive will only include loan processing and production.
Bank of the Sierra has been operating for nearly four decades and has more than $1.7 billion in total assets and over 400 employees.
For Citizens, additional community bank acquisitions might be on the table as well. The institution is currently waiting for the right opportunity among the handful of small independent banks left in the region.
“We’re out there, we’re looking,” Myers said. “We’re very serious about presence in the Santa Barbara and Ventura County markets, both through organic growth or if we can find the right deal.”
According to Watkins the playing field titling toward larger banks isn’t the best situation for everyone.
“What you’re seeing is very large national chains eat up the smaller guys and so on because they can’t do lots of things or don’t have the knowledge that makes them competitive on a smaller scale,” he said.
Super-regional and national banks are good at working with large corporate customers and consumers, but there is a bigger gap in the middle market, Watkins said. Having expansion-minded community banks take up that mantle and compete for that business is good thing, but bigger banks also tend to be more risk a averse and face more regulatory scrutiny.
“They still don’t have the flexibility and knowledge of community banks,” he said. “They used to have the structure to make relatively small loans, but those days are gone. While regulators might be happy seeing fewer banks, I don’t necessarily think the world is a better place where you once had smaller players trying to see what they could make work.”