By Kevin Dobbs and Stephanie Deck
Thursday, November 14, 2013 (View original article)

A recovering job market, brightening housing picture and a strengthening commercial real estate sector have collectively infused a dose of vitality into the Southern California operating environment for banks.

To be sure, the region's recovery is far from over. It plunged deep amid the downturn of the last decade, badly bruising real estate and employment markets, and cutting deep into banks' credit quality and ability to find creditworthy customers.

Yet, despite lingering headwinds such as uncertainty among business owners about tax and health care policy that has curbed confidence in some corners, banks' customers have over the last several quarters gradually ramped up activity, with more consumers seeking loans to buy homes and more businesses at least making selective investments.

Such was the sentiment shared by many bankers and analysts coming out of the third-quarter earnings season.

"It is still cautious optimism, but there is optimism," Steven Brown, president and CEO of Pacific Coast Bankers' Bancshares, told SNL. "There's still a lot to keep fighting through, but things are better now than in 2012, which was better than '11, which was better than the year before. So things are headed in the right direction."

Relative to the sluggish conditions of the past decade, bankers say conditions are positive almost across the board.

"I'm trying to think if there's an industry in California that's not doing well right now; it doesn't come to mind," Christopher Carey, CFO of Los Angeles-based City National Corp., said while speaking at a conference this week. He said City National has benefited from advances in the technology, agriculture and entertainment industries, among others. "So the economy is helping us out."

Carey said California's GDP has advanced over the past year at a greater rate than the nation as a whole. He said Orange County's unemployment rate just tops 6%, notably better than the national rate of 7.3% in October, and San Diego's hovers around the national figure. In Greater Los Angeles, Carey noted, the jobless rate still hangs around 10%, but that is much improved from the 11% level of a year ago, and, importantly, "businesses there are doing well."

City National, for one, said its credit quality is sound and much improved from the depths of the last decade. In the third quarter, excluding covered loans, it produced loan growth of 5% from the previous quarter and 21% from a year earlier. Period-end loans and leases reached a company record of $16.6 billion.

Overall, commercial and savings banks based in Southern California produced median third-quarter loan growth of 2.45%, an SNL analysis of regulatory filings found. Compared with a year earlier, they boosted median lending levels by 6.49%.

Residential construction was a positive in the third quarter, with median growth topping 15%.

Demand for housing has been building, helping the region recover from the bust of the late 2000s. The latest S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices showed that home prices in August climbed 21.7% from a year earlier in Los Angeles. Prices jumped 21.5% in San Diego.

"We are seeing some more construction projects bubble up, too," Brown said.

Compared with a year earlier, commercial real estate proved a positive driver. Median CRE lending rose more than 8% from the third quarter of 2012.

"And we are starting to see more growth" in CRE, Matthew Anderson, a California-based managing director with Trepp LLC, told SNL. "There's quite a lot of pent-up demand out there. ¦ There's plenty of refinancing demand, and we are seeing modest sales activity as well."

He said underwriting standards are generally more conservative now than before the 2008 financial crisis, and that is a roadblock at times, as some banks won't lend as much as customers need to refinance the debt they have.

"But overall, there is more demand on the borrower side, and there is greater willingness on the bank side to originate some fresh loans," Anderson said.

Banks' eagerness to lend more is in part boosted by improving credit quality, he said.

Commercial mortgage delinquency rates, for example, fell to 2.3% in the Los Angeles area in the third quarter, according to Trepp. That was down from a peak of 6.6% in the first quarter of 2010.

"That's a big positive," Anderson said. He noted that there is still plenty of room for improvement, as a pre-crisis "normal" level was around 1%. "But things are steadily improving, and as problem loans get worked out of the system, banks' appetite to put more capital to work grows."

All of that noted, loan growth remains generally modest. Those that are posting major gains are typically doing so by stealing share from competitors, as opposed to strong organic growth, or by acquiring loans via deals, Brown said.

Indeed, Los Angeles-based Grandpoint Capital Inc.'s Grandpoint Bank, which produced the greatest third-quarter growth among Southern California-based banks, has benefited in large measure from a string of acquisitions.

Most recently, in September, it acquired Los Angeles-based Gilmore Bank from A. F. Gilmore Co. Grandpoint also completed three open-bank deals in 2012, another in 2011 and three in 2010. It also closed an FDIC-assisted bank deal in 2010.

Outside of gains in market share and deals, organic growth is still tough to produce, analysts say. Sandler O'Neill & Partners LP analyst Aaron Deer told SNL in the wake of third-quarter earnings reports that competition remains fierce and heavy pressure on rates persists, making it difficult for many to drum up new business without compromising on terms.

But more banks are generating at least some growth, he said, indicating that there are, at a minimum, pockets of organic demand. And overall economic conditions are improving, he said.

"So there are some positives to be found," Deer said.

Brown agreed that competition "is extreme." But he too sees a generally improving landscape. He cautioned, however, that it could take several more quarters for the industry as a whole to establish a new normal in terms of lending levels.

"A lot of guys are out there waiting for some magic elixir to make everything great all of a sudden," Brown said. "It doesn't exist."

Copyright 2013, SNL Financial LC. All rights reserved. SNL Financial LC, One SNL Plaza. (434) 977-1600

By Sarah Todd
Tuesday, September 10, 2013 (View original article)

Chinatrust Bank in Los Angeles has ambitions that go beyond the nationality embedded in its name. The $1.5 billion-asset bank is set to rebrand itself as CTBC Bank and begin offering new products in an effort to appeal to more customers than just those of Chinese descent. Its Taiwanese parent, Chinatrust Commercial Bank, changed its name to CTBC Bank Co. in June as part of the makeover.

“When we were a small organization focused on the greater China market, the name Chinatrust had a lot of resonance,” says Noor Menai, the president and chief executive of the U.S. bank. “Now we find ourselves with a much bigger global opportunity.”

The U.S. financial crisis created unique opportunities for smaller, well-capitalized banks like CTBC, says Menai, who joined it in January after serving as head of governance and retail banking in North America for the parent company.

“People lost confidence in large banks,” Menai says. “So there is a huge opportunity for us to keep servicing our core ethnic market while also tapping into emerging demand. What we can offer is the resources of a much larger bank in a much more familiar and intimate setting."

CTBC joins a growing list of banks that have adopted new, less confining names.

North Jersey Community Bancorp changed its name to ConnectOne Bancorp in January. On Monday, BNC Financial in Connecticut changed its name to Bankwell Financial (BNFI); it also merged its Bank of New Canaan and Bank of Fairfield into a single bank that took on the Bankwell brand.

Naugatuck Savings Bank in Connecticut is planning to change its name to Ion Bank, though it took management two years to come up with the updated brand. “You would not believe how hard it is to come up with a name,” Chuck Boulier, the company’s president and chief executive, said in an interview last month.

While dropping “China” from its name may help CTBC expand beyond a niche client base, some potential customers may be mystified by the acronym, according to Steven Reider, president of consulting firm Bancography.

“I’m not a fan of pure letters that don’t mean anything,” Reider says. “You only have a limited number of opportunities to tell the public something about your institution."

On the other hand, the acronym offers CTBC a chance to start with a blank slate. “Since the name is totally devoid of meaning,” he says, “CTBC can invest whatever meaning it chooses into it.”

CTBC plans to ramp up in corporate lending and residential mortgages, Menai says. It has already been hiring staff, including new heads of risk management and retail banking. In February the bank also hired Edward Kim, a former executive at Cathay Bank (CATY), as its chief lending officer.

“On the corporate banking side, there is a huge amount of pent-up entrepreneurship in the” United States, Menai says. A number of potential customers “have been sitting on the sidelines” after being rattled by the financial crisis.

“Money is coming back into the market,” Menai says. “There are Silicon Valley real estate communities that are ready to invest, but a lot of the lenders they’ve traditionally gone to are still getting their houses in order. … People want a bank that’s easy to work with and has the capital to lend, so that they don’t wind up left at the altar.”

As CTBC expands its mortgage lending business, it is especially eager to work with Latino and African American communities.

“These communities have historically been underserved because other banks’ business models don’t allow them to lend,” Menai says. “Ours does. We’re a next-door bank, and that gives us plenty of opportunity to serve ethnic markets other than our own.” In a move to appeal to more diverse clientele, CTBC relocated its headquarters from suburban Torrance to downtown Los Angeles in June. The bank, founded in 1989, has 12 offices in California, New York and New Jersey.

“The models I’m enamored with … are the ones where you don’t have to invest in huge amounts of real estate to get people the services they need,” Menai says. “If you design products and services people fall in love with, you don’t need a branch on every street corner."

Menai was president and chief executive at Charles Schwab Bank in 2007. His background also includes senior positions at Citigroup (NYSE:C) and Bank of America (BAC). “We’re building a team of specialists who’ve all risen to the top of their markets,” Menai says. “And that kind of team is what leads to greatness.”

2013 SourceMedia Inc. and American Banker. All rights reserved. SourceMedia, One State Street Plaza, New York, N.Y. 10004 (800) 367-3989

By Jame Yu
Wednesday, July 24, 2013 (View original article)

Sunwest Bank veteran Brian Constable has joined Los Angeles-based Chinatrust Bank to head its retail banking business.

Constable served as chief commercial banking officer at Irvine-based Sunwest for six years. His banking career has also included stints at Provident Bank in Riverside and Los Angeles-based City National Bank.

Chinatrust, which focuses on Asian-American customers, operates 12 branches in California, New Jersey and New York. Its parent company, Chinatrust Commercial Bank Co. in Taiwan, has about $63 billion in total assets.

By Scuttlebutt

July 18 2013 By Scuttlebutt (View Original Article)

Chinatrust Bank (USA) has appointed Frida Bank as executive vice president and head of risk management. She reports to Noor Menai, president and chief executive officer of Chinatrust Bank (USA).

Bank will be responsible for compliance, risk and oversight of the Bank Secrecy Act. She joins Chinatrust after nine years with East West Bank, where she served as senior vice president and director of compliance. In this capacity, she oversaw the bank's anti-money laundering, bank secrecy act and regulatory compliance team.

Prior to East West, Bank served as first vice president and compliance manager with Cathay Bank, and was responsible for all aspects of compliance with consumer protection laws and post-merger activities. She also served as senior vice president and compliance manager at Chinatrust for six years.

Earlier in her career, Bank served in various compliance oversight and management roles at Tokai Bank; Olympic National Bank; and Security Pacific Asian Bank.

By Chris Cumming

JUL 23, 2013 2:14pm ET (View original article)

Chinatrust Bank in Los Angeles has hired heads of risk management and retail banking.

Brian Constable became retail banking chief on July 1, the $1.5 billion-asset company announced Tuesday. He succeeds Brian Gregson, who resigned.

Constable is in charge of mortgage sales, wealth management, marketing and Chinatrust's branch network. The bank, which is the U.S. unit of Chinatrust Financial Holding in Taiwan, has 12 branches in California, New Jersey and New York.

Constable joined Chinatrust from Sunwest Bank (SWBC) in Irvine, Calif., where he had been chief commercial banking officer since 2007. Earlier he was with City National(CYN) in Los Angeles.

Separately, Chinatrust announced that Frida Bank became head of risk management and Bank Secrecy Act compliance on July 15. The position is new.

Bank joined Chinatrust from East West Bank in Pasadena, Calif., where she was director of compliance. She has also held compliance roles with Cathay Bank and Tokai Bank, both in Los Angeles.

Bank "has a stellar reputation in the banking community, and she brings us a tremendous track record in managing risk and compliance while optimizing growth opportunities," Noor Menai, president and chief executive of Chinatrust Bank, said in the news release. Bank "has managed teams with large asset portfolios and has the values and depth to lead our regulatory and risk compliance of our company."

Menai was named CEO of Chinatrust in January.

By Chris Cumming

JAN 2, 2013 3:03pm ET (View Original Article)

Chinatrust Bank has tapped a veteran banker to become its president and chief executive.

Noor Menai will oversee the bank's U.S. operations, which include 12 branches and groups that handle commercial-and-industrial and commercial real estate lending, the bank said in a press release Wednesday.

Menai will continue to manage the North American operations of the bank's Taiwanese parent, Chinatrust Commercial Bank. He joined Chinatrust in 2011 as the head of governance and retail banking for several countries, including the United States and Canada.

Chinatrust Bank had $1.5 billion in assets and branches in New York, New Jersey and California at Sept. 30, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Menai "is a proven leader who will take Chinatrust Bank USA to the next level," C.C. Tung, the bank's chairman, said in the release. "He brings an impressive track record with banking's premier brands and he'll take a 'hands-on' approach to expanding business, practicing sound risk management, increasing productivity, and delivering strong results."

Before joining Chinatrust, Menai worked in private equity and asset management. He helped form Fajr Capital, an investment vehicle backed by sovereign wealth funds. He once was the president and chief executive of Charles Schwab Bank, where he helped relaunch a deposit platform targeting brokerage customers. He also spent nine years with Citigroup North America.

This is the second change in Chinatrust Bank's U.S. team in the last year. Early last year, the bank hired Brian Gregson, a former HSBC executive, as its head of retail banking.