Thursday, July 10, 2008

Ojai Bank Adding New Branches

Ojai Community Bank buys Santa Barbara Bank & Trust’s Santa Paula branch offices

By Sondra Murphy
Ojai Community Bank has integrated the concept of investing locally into its business plan. Now, after three years of success, OCB is expanding its horizons — but not too far.
“We have signed a definitive agreement for the purchase and the acquisition of two branch offices of Santa Barbara Bank & Trust that are located on Main Street and Harvard Boulevard in Santa Paula,” said Shari Skinner, OCB president and CEO. “The agreement is subject to shareholder and regulatory approval, but we anticipate closing the transaction in the fourth quarter of 2008.”
That time period runs Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. OCB currently has about 311 shareholders.
Skinner said that since starting OCB in 2005, it has grown to be worth about $50 million. With the acquisition of the Santa Paula sites, the board expects to more than double its assets to around $110 million. OCB and SBBT began dialogues when the latter decided to focus more on trust and wealth management. Skinner said this was perfect timing for OCB to expand its consumer and small business banking.
OCB’s Don Scanlin recently took over as chairman of the board, a position previously held by John W. Russell. “Seven of us were all involved with the founding of the bank and we opened our doors March of 2005,” said Scanlin. “The main thing that prompted it was that Ojai didn’t have a true community bank after Ojai Valley Bank was purchased. We believed deeply in the community banking concept and what it can do for a community.”
Scanlin is proud of the fact that a high proportion of shareholders are locals. “Over 80 percent of our shares were sold to people who have Ojai residences, so we are truly locally owned,” he said. OCB shares are publicly traded on the over-the-counter bulletin board. Its stock symbol is ojcb.
Taking that small-town approach over the summit is a good fit for the company that has grown to employ 19 at Ojai Community Bank. “Our idea really is to have very small banks that don’t just expand into a giant bank so we can stay personal and serve local needs,” said Skinner. “We will be looking to the community through our Charitable Giving Program to help us develop programs to help support Santa Paula.”
The Charitable Giving Program produces funds that OCB reinvests in local endeavors. With each OCB account opened, $25 is given to a community organization with the customers directing the funds. “So far, we’ve given $25,000 a year to that program and we expect that to go up,” said Skinner. “Since we’ve opened, we have given more than 10 percent of our earnings to local nonprofits.”
OCB hopes to expand its community mindedness. “Our intent in going over to Santa Paula is to continue to run the bank with the staffs there and, if good fortune smiles on us, we will employ more,” said Skinner. “I actually think that, by moving it from a branch environment to a bank environment, it will be a positive move for them as well.”
The Harvard Boulevard branch is a leased location, but the Main Street acquisition includes the real estate as well. OCB plans to rename the SBBT branches Santa Paula Community Bank and provide the same kind of personal and community-based banking services in Santa Paula as it has in Ojai. “What we’re doing here is bringing local community banking into Santa Paula,” said Skinner. “We really believe in small community banks. Our long-term plan is to have very small, community banks that work on supporting the local communities.”
The idea of keeping banking small and local seems to go against the current trend in business, but it has paid off for OCB. “Ultimately, we have plans for doing this in other communities, as well,” said Scanlin. “We think there’s a bright future in that and it will do a lot of good to the com-munities and that will help our business plan succeed so we hope this is the first of many moves like this. I’m thrilled with the opportunity given to us.”
Scanlin was born and raised in Fillmore and worked in the oil industry before operating a real estate business in Santa Paula for 18 years, so he is enthusiastic about OCB’s expansion. “It’s kind of a coming home for me personally,” he said.
George Leis, president and chief executive officer of Santa Barbara Bank & Trust, and himself an Ojai resident, said that the while the bank was committed to its seven other Ventura County branches, the “Santa Paula region would be better served by a bank that can really pay attention to this unique community.
“Santa Paula has been a good market for us, but it’s one we believe that (Ojai Community Bank) will do a better job of operating.”

1 comment:

John said...

How do I find a front page article that appeared years ago, right after Prop 13 was passed.