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Citizens Business Is Banking on the Local Market

Citizens Business Bank, which officially entered the San Diego market earlier this month with the opening of a Carmel Valley office, touts having big-bank capabilities delivered with a small-bank sensibility.

“We’re a medium-sized bank,” CEO Christopher Myers said of the bank headquartered in Ontario. “We’ve got big-bank services, products and technology, but we deliver them like a local community bank.”

At $7.3 billion in total assets, Citizens Business Bank, a unit of CVB Financial Corp., is the Inland Empire’s largest financial institution and a remarkable survivor given the staggering recession the region is still recovering from.

While several major banks in the area failed due to a huge uptick in problem loans, Citizens Business withstood the economy cratering, and continued to post profits. In fact, Myers points out that his bank is the only one in the state among those larger than $1 billion that has reported consistent profits over 37 years, or 148 consecutive profitable quarters.

Citizens Business avoided the pitfalls that befell other banks in the region partly by limiting lending in construction and development, and by being very selective about the loans it makes, Myers said.

“We’re not trying to be all things to all people, and we focus on the top 25 percent in each industry. … Those are the businesses that stand the test of time,” he said.

To head up the San Diego office, Myers tapped longtime local banker Paul Rodeno, who was most recently regional president at AmericanWest Bank. Rodeno was a co-founder the CEO at Security Business Bank of San Diego that operated from 2002 until 2012 when it was acquired by Spokane, Washington-based AmericanWest.

With more than 25 years of executive experience in banking, Rodeno is the right executive to build Citizens Business Bank’s market in San Diego, Myers said.

Two More San Diego Offices Sought

Despite the county having myriad banks and other lenders already operating, Myers thinks there’s room for his institution.

“This is a competitive market because it’s a worthwhile market,” he said. “This area has also seen a lot of consolidation of banks, so I think this presents a great opportunity for us.”

Myers said his objective is to eventually have at least three offices covering San Diego. Depending on how the growth occurs, Citizens Business may open a second office in the Carlsbad area and a third in downtown San Diego.

The initial plan is for the first office to grow to about $50 million to $75 million in deposits. Over the next 10 years that should increase to about $1 billion, although reaching that goal may require acquiring another bank, he said.

The bank is in no hurry, and does things methodically and steadily, Myers said.

“We’ve been successful in everything we’ve done,” he said. “Our objective is to continue to build our presence branch by branch, account by account.”

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