Outsmarting Goliath

Butte Community Bank is making strides in a corporate banking market by staying flexible and emphasizing a community approach

WATCH ROBBINS FLY Keith Robbins, CEO of Butte Community Bank, has seen the local bank grow steadily in each year of its 10-year existence. BCB opens a new Mangrove Avenue location in January.

WATCH ROBBINS FLY Keith Robbins, CEO of Butte Community Bank, has seen the local bank grow steadily in each year of its 10-year existence. BCB opens a new Mangrove Avenue location in January.

photo by Tom Angel

Free lunch: The third Wednesday of each month BCB hosts a free business workshop during a complimentary lunch. Resumes in January of 2002; call 899-7100.

In January of next year, locally owned and operated Butte Community Bank will open a new branch in the Mangrove Plaza, utilizing the one-story wooden structure that last housed Cassidy’s restaurant.

This marks the third Chico site for the thriving young bank, which was established less than a dozen years ago—in August 1990—by members of the Paradise and Oroville communities who recognized the need for a local bank presence to meet their unique needs. Beginning with a 17 employees, BCB opened its doors in Paradise and Oroville in December of that year.

In 1993, a third location was opened in Magalia to overwhelming response, partly due to the recent closure of three financial institutions on the Upper Ridge. Fueled by growing assets, BCB opened a fourth location with a loan production office in Chico in 1995—with a full-service banking operation soon following in South Chico on Forest Avenue in ‘96.

Each year, the bank continued to grow by nearly 25 percent each financial quarter, and with that success came a new branch in Yuba City, a loan production office in Roseville and another office in Chico, bringing the count to six full-service branch offices with two here in Chico (not counting the future Mangrove location)—while total assets have reached a sum of around $270 million.

All of this success comes in a local banking environment dominated by big-money corporate institutions such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

“Basically, one of the major reasons we’ve been successful and constantly growing is our ability to be flexible,” says Keith Robbins, CEO of Butte Community Bank. “It’s like the difference between maneuvering a speed boat as opposed to an aircraft carrier. … Large banks can’t have effective change overnight; we have more ability to meet the changing needs of our local communities.”

Robbins explains that with the current economy experiencing a downturn in interest rates, BCB is able to change emphasis in its earning structure during a specific time, for instance, when many people are refinancing their homes.

“Recognizing trends and making changes immediately has been a specialty of ours,” says Robbins. “Also small-business lending. And we have a good agriculture portfolio, but our main niche is construction lending.”

Aside from the important advantages of local control and maneuverability, Robbins says that advertising, community involvement and word of mouth have been keys in the steady growth of the company—especially now, in times of intense competition.

“We’re local. Everybody that makes decisions lives in these communities,” he notes. “And running local businesses, you have to get out there and be involved—not just phone it in, so to speak.”

Robbins and company are particularly proud of the BCB’s record of being awarded nine consecutive annual Super Premier Performing bank ratings by the Findley Reports, a distinguished independent bank evaluation company that examines Western banks on four standards of objective criteria: growth and assets, return on equity, return on assets and loan losses. BCB’s nine consecutive superior ratings marks the first time that has happened for a new bank in the Findley Reports’ 30-year history.

“They [BCB] have really set themselves apart by their funding of local projects,” notes Lisa DeLaby, public relations director for Bob Linscheid and Associates. “They have a local board of directors, who are able to take a longer look at funding local projects. … Also, people know that their organization really wants to benefit the local economy.”

Robbins and his wife Cathy seem to also have a soft spot for youth issues.

Both are on the board for the local Boys and Girls Club and have maintained a heavy, hands-on approach in a variety of local community service organizations. In addition to financial contributions, they get involved themselves, and Robbins encourages his staff to engage local charities like the annual golf tournament.

“The BCB has been extraordinary, and the Robbinses, both of them, really get in there and walk the walk,” says Maureen Pierce, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of the North Valley, which includes Chico and Paradise. “Keith served as a board member and kind-of ambassador between the Paradise and Chico clubs early on, helping to formalize the relationship between the two, which was extremely helpful. They’re both very generous and lending of their time and talents to our organizational ability.”

“For the last five years, our employees have supported Youth for Change, a nonprofit that benefits abused kids,” explains Robbins. “We’ve wanted to build a transitional-living home for these kids, so each year we have a Black and White Ball in October, which this year earned $40,000—bringing the total to $143,000 in four years.”

Robbins says the community service projects are not only worthwhile endeavors for their respective causes and “giving back to the community” but also a means of involving the local staff and consequently bringing business back into the bank. In this way, community involvement can translate into the kind of trust and respect that many people feel is sorely lacking in the big chain banks, which count small towns as simple numbers in a wide, sometimes international chain.

So what does the future hold for BCB? If the steady growth continues, you can look for it to expand beyond the realms of what many consider “local.”

“If the opportunity presents itself, we would surely take the time to look into it," said Don LeForce, chairman of the board of directors. "If you become stagnant, you lose the dynamics of a growth-oriented company. … But whatever we do, we’ll surely keep the focus of being customer-oriented and not falling into the cookie-cutter syndrome—that’s how we’ve been successful all these years, by reacting to the needs of customers and getting local people involved."