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Ramona National Changes Name on Door to First Business Bank

Ramona National Bank said it was changing its name to First Business Bank, among other changes, signaling efforts to recover from a regulatory consent order issued by the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in 2005.

The consent order cites 10 areas needing improvement at Ramona, nine of which involved shake-ups in management and oversight, most of which have been cleared.

The tenth and final area for improvement is achieving profitability, which President and Chief Executive Officer John McGrath said is soon due.

“We expect to hit profitability this quarter,” said McGrath. “They want to see stabilized profitability and that’s the only remaining item on the consent order.”

In February 2006, McGrath was brought on board to help bring Ramona back into regulators’ good graces.

Recently, Ramona National raised $18 million in capital from its largest shareholder, the Ernest Auerbach Trust, as well as other directors.

“It provides us some of the highest capital ratios in the state and the basis to grow well into the $200 million (in assets) range,” said McGrath. “It helps attract larger businesses and larger loans and deposits, generally making us a more attractive business partner.”

Chief Operating Officer Nathan Rogge said the bank has installed new managers and sales officers, who will take the bank in a different direction.

“We kind of cleaned house,” said Rogge. “I would guess that half the staff is new. Some of the staff was laid off, but we also increased the size of the bank.”

Rogge said the newly renamed bank would focus on small- to middle-market business , businesses with revenues below $35 million , with a particular emphasis on professionals, such as doctors, lawyers and accountants. The bank’s recent branch addition is in University Towne Center, where Rogge said there is an abundance of professionals.

“We’re moving to where our client base is,” said Rogge. “The demographic between UTC and Del Mar Heights has the largest number of small- to middle-market businesses, particularly professionals,” in San Diego County.

Although the executive offices have relocated to the UTC branch, First Business Bank still has its headquarters in Ramona and a branch in La Mesa.

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A Busy Banker:

The proposed Gateway Pacific Bank is moving closer to regulatory approval, and has proposed three sites , all in National City. Gateway President and Chief Executive Officer Garry Barnes said he is working on fitting the last pieces of the puzzle together before getting the OK from regulators.

“We’re recruiting a chief credit officer and a chief financial officer,” said Barnes. “When I’m not doing that, I’m refining our three-year financial plan.”

Barnes said that potential recruits come from connections that he and members of the board of directors have in the banking industry.

“We contact people we know and ask if they know anybody unhappy at their job that would like to move and take advantage of a great opportunity,” said Barnes, adding that Gateway also posted Internet ads for the positions.

Barnes also said that recent bank merger activity could open the floodgates of potential recruits.

“Anytime a merger occurs there’s usually a duplication of services,” Barnes said. “People will have to find other opportunities within the bank or may have to look for opportunities elsewhere.

“It’s a strong market for experienced bank employees right now.”

Once the bank receives approval, Barnes said the bank will raise capital through an initial public offering.

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On The Move:

1st Pacific Bank of California is moving its La Jolla branch and headquarters into a single office, said Chief Executive Officer Vince Siciliano.

“Our headquarters are right across the street (from the new office) and the branch location is one mile away from that,” said Siciliano.

According to Los Angeles-based Arden Realty Inc., 1st Pacific signed a 10-year lease valued at $7.4 million for 18,400 square feet of space in the Genesee Executive Center.

Siciliano said that the bank’s branch will be on the ground floor with the headquarters upstairs.

“We wanted more space for the head office and our branch lease expired,” Siciliano said. “We wanted to collocate the branch with the headquarters,” adding that space, not cost, was the main reason for the collocation.

Send banking news to Andy Killion via e-mail at akillion@sdbj.com. He can be reached at (858) 277-6359, ext. 3106.


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