Santa Maria-style banking is personal

Community Bank of Santa Maria board of directors

The board of directors of the Community Bank of Santa Maria, including president and CEO Janet Silveria (center-right), poses in front of the bank’s headquarters.

The award-winning Community Bank of Santa Maria has won over new customers with its high-tech, high-touch service despite challenges like COVID-19 and economic downturns.

By Judith Sears


Name: Community Bank of Santa Maria
Location: Santa Maria, Calif.
Assets: $250 million

 

As the self-described home of “Santa Maria-style banking,” the Community Bank of Santa Maria has cultivated deep roots in its community.

The $250 million-asset community bank in Santa Maria, Calif., funds 4-H projects, for example, loaning young people $300 to $1,000 to purchase an animal to exhibit at the county fair. The bank then coaches the young owners to budget for feeding and care until they’re able to sell their animals at auction.

“It’s a loss leader, but we think that’s part of being a community bank,” says Jim Glines, the community bank’s founder and chairman of the board. “We do things that bigger regional banks won’t do.”

Glines cofounded Community Bank of Santa Maria with Bill Hares, a former banking colleague, when they concluded that regional banks would never be able to fill some important community needs. In 2000, the two began planning the Community Bank of Santa Maria. They assembled a group of 10 directors, including five who graduated from Santa Maria High School. “You don’t get much more local than that,” Glines says.

Janet Silveria, the community bank’s current president and CEO, agrees. “Our local board understands the culture of Santa Maria,” she says. “They know the community and the businesses and the nuances of the culture.”

Community Bank of Santa Maria has successfully parlayed its local commitment into strong financial performance and growth. Earlier this year, the community bank was recognized as a “Super Premier” performing bank, the highest rating given by the Findley Reports, which has benchmarked California’s banking industry since 1967.

Community Bank of Santa Maria practices a “high-tech, high-touch” banking vision. “We say, ‘We’re people when you want us; technology when you don’t,’” Silveria says.

Winning customers with personal service

The community bank and its team consistently follow through on this mission. Callers are greeted by live people, not automated systems. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the bank offered coffee in its lobbies and, on Fridays, free popcorn.

The high-touch philosophy isn’t limited to a homey atmosphere. Loan officers strive for comprehensive knowledge of their clients, which has yielded great bottom-line results.

“We don’t have cookie-cutter loan processes,” Glines says. “When somebody comes in to talk to us about a loan, the loan officer gathers all the data they need to analyze and process the loan. The loan officer sees that loan through to the point that it is booked by the loan department.”

The loan officers’ detailed understanding of their customers’ circumstances allows Community Bank of Santa Maria to customize loans that work for both the bank and the customer. In fact, Silveria believes lenders’ close involvement and knowledge contribute to the bank’s low delinquency rate, which has been less than 1% since the Great Recession.

“Our loan officers know their borrowers. If we see signs of trouble, the loan officer contacts the person. They have a relationship and a rapport,” Silveria says. “We get on them pretty quickly and are able to work out a solution in most cases.”

That approach has built business for the bank, winning trust and attracting new business. “We gained such tremendous customer loyalty because of our ability to stick with borrowers and work with them through the downturn and get them through the other end,” Silveria says. “That’s a huge differentiating factor. We gained new customers in the previous economic downturn.”

All hands on deck

To stay competitive, Community Bank of Santa Maria backs up the personal touch with technology investments that support online banking, business cash management, ACH origination and rapid remote deposit, among other capabilities.

The community bank follows its customers’ lead when evaluating innovation investments, adding mobile deposit capabilities in response to demand, for example. “We do recognize that we’re not going to be a front-runner in terms of technology,” Silveria says. “We work it into the budget when our customers let us know they’re seeing a loss of value.”

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, Community Bank of Santa Maria has stuck with its high-touch approach, albeit with masks and careful attention to social distancing practices. To handle the staggering pandemic-related workload, the community bank rehired two retired employees to help process SBA loans. The compliance department has also pitched in to process loans, an attitude that Silveria says is characteristic of the bank and its structure.

“At what other organization is something like that going to happen?” she says. “We have no silos. You don’t tell another department, ‘No, not my job.’ It’s all hands on deck right now. You do everything.”

“We’re seeing customers moving more accounts over when they see how we operate. We’re building our next generation of loyal customers.”
—Janet Silveria, Community Bank of Santa Maria

Silveria is confident that Community Bank of Santa Maria’s high-touch style further differentiates the bank in its response to COVID-19. “I can’t tell you how many new customers we’re hearing from that have been cut off from their own bank or can’t get an answer,” she says. “They can’t even get anybody on the other end of the phone to tell them how they get a modification or how to apply for [Small Business Administration] funds. Here, they’re getting answers; they’re getting to talk to front-line staff.”

That’s how Community Bank of Santa Maria has won over new customers despite the pandemic.

“We’re convincing those customers that we’re a better bank,” Silveria says. “We’re seeing customers moving more accounts over when they see how we operate. We’re building our next generation of loyal customers.”


Judith Sears is a writer in Colorado.

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