February 25, 2024
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American Riviera finds its niche


By Madeleine Benn

Staff Writer

American Riviera Bank has begun offering products and services aimed at attracting accounts smaller than those typically targeted by wealth management offices.

The products and services include accounts for first time savers and checking customers, aid to small businesses in qualifying for loans and assistance to first time home buyers.

“There are close to 4.5% of U.S. households, which translates to 5.9 million adults, who remain unbanked,” said Joanne Funari, Chief Operating Officer of American Riviera Bank. “They may think that they do not have enough money to accommodate the minimum balance. They sometimes think that the fees are unpredictable or too high… What their options have been really, if they’re not opening bank accounts, they’re having to go to payday lenders and being charged really high fees for financial services.”

According to a press release put out by American Riviera Bank, the nationally certified BankOn Simply Checking program will help those hesitant to start bank accounts overcome expected obstacles so that they can feel secure when putting their money into the bank. The program is designed for consumers who can’t afford to meet minimum balance requirements and who can’t afford to pay excessive fees. 

Laurel Sykes, EVP and Chief Risk Officer for American Riviera Bank said the timing of the bank’s certification as a service provider for BankOn came at the right time. American Riviera Bank sought approval while the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) and the American Bankers’ Association were also looking to improve financial awareness during a similar timeframe. Hence, a program that allows for unbanked individuals to become more financially literate became available at American Riviera Bank at a serendipitous point in time. 

Scott Bell spoke on his new position as the new SBA Business Development Officer for the Central Coast. “I’ve been in the business for 28 years now, so it’s just what I do,” said Bell. He explained the benefits of the Small Business Administration department as follows, “We help facilitate SBA loans to businesses, whether it’s buying a building, a partner buyout, a business acquisition, working capital or equipment financing. It’s all done through the backing of the SBA.”

“Essentially, SBA financing is the government guaranteeing a portion of the loan (American Riviera Bank) does,” said Bell. In the past, consumers had to put 25% down in order to buy a property with SBA financing. Today, they can put down as little as 10%, the bank will fund 50% of the loan and the SBA will provide the last 40%. 

Regarding the Federal Home Loan Banking program, Sykes said, “We are a member of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco. They provide us with methods for funding if we need… to make loans. We’re also able to leverage many other products and services they offer.” 

One such program is the WISH Grant (Workforce Initiative Subsidy for Homeownership). With this program, the bank is able to match the grant. 

“Well, they definitely help on the Federal Home Loan Bank side. They help low and moderate income families, those deemed as anybody earning 80% or less of the median income for the communities,” added Sykes. She continued, “It’s pretty tough if you’re a lower to moderate income family to be reaching for homeownership in such a high-cost area.” 

And it’s not just people, the loans can be used to help redevelop or revitalize the downtown Santa Barbara area. “We can help support economic development and financing of small businesses. We have the SBA with the small businesses, which are primarily those businesses that are generating a million or less in gross annual revenue, they might have one to four employees. They’re small, but they’re also the bread and butter of our community,” said Sykes. She continued, “I think more than 90% of the businesses in Santa Barbara County and in San Luis Obispo County are generating a million or less in annual revenues. That’s our sweet spot.” 

She emphasized that being a community partner and leveraging their knowledge and expertise to know what these businesses can benefit from is really helpful. 

American Riviera Bank’s work to improve financial awareness and capability as well as their philanthropic efforts throughout the community are well documented. Their environmental, social and governance commitment statement reads, “Every day, in every way, we embody the spirit of true community banking.” It details their devotion to corporate responsibility through open dialogues, transparency and communications to create meaningful change.