Solera National Bancorp, Inc. (SLRK.OB)
October 30, 2009 Issue
The Most Powerful Name In Corporate News and Information
Nearing The $100 Million Mark On June 30, 2009, Solera National Bancorp, Inc. Is Growing Rapidly Validating Its Business Model Of High Quality Personal Service For Small Businesses, Along With A Niche Focus On The Hispanic Demographic
Solera National Bancorp, Inc., is the parent
company of Solera National Bank, a traditional, community commercial bank
with a core-competency in understanding and servicing the culturally diverse
and dynamic Hispanic market.
Prior to assuming the President and CEO role at Solera National Bancorp, Inc. in October 2008, Mr. Crichfield was Principal and Owner for the Crichfield Group which provided business consulting for entrepreneurs with an emphasis on bank advisory work. Prior to forming the Crichfield Group in September 1999, he was a Director and EVP of CFX Corporation, Keene, New Hampshire (a bank holding company); and President, CEO & Trustee for the holding company's principal subsidiary, CFX Bank. Additionally, he served as President, CEO and Director of Community Bankshares, Inc., (a bank holding company) and its wholly owned subsidiary Concord Savings Bank, Concord, NH for seven years. Mr. Crichfield has a Certificate from Harvard University Institute of Financial Management; a Certificate from the University of Illinois Graduate School of Bank Investments; and a B.A. and M.A. in Economics from Northeastern University.
Interview conducted by: Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFOinterviews.com, Published - October 30, 2009
Mr. Crichfield: Solera National Bank was the vision of approximately twenty organizers, primarily people from what we call the Front-Range of Colorado, the greater Denver metropolitan area. The idea was to create a quality local independent community bank that would provide a high level of service to all. In addition, it would be one that would also have a niche specialization or focus on the large and growing Hispanic demographic in Colorado. That was seen as a market that was somewhat underserved and these organizers wanted to create a bank to serve that market with the same type and quality of service that we would provide to the other segments of the population.
CEOCFO: How was it that you came to take over the CEO role?
Mr. Crichfield: I was recruited to go on the board of directors of Solera National Bank before they opened, during the organization phase. They basically were looking for people to be directors and organizers that had a significant banking background. So I went on the board in late 2005, but the company actually opened for business in September of 2007. I was recruited to fill the vacant president and CEO chair at the very end of October of last year.
CEOCFO: That was a tough time to take over a bank; why was it right for you?
Mr. Crichfield: I like growing companies, building companies. We had an interesting proposition here, an interesting business plan. I was active in raising capital and wanted to see this company grow and be successful.
CEOCFO: Where is the bank today?
Mr. Crichfield: Right now the bank is growing fairly rapidly. We are on our plan towards profitability. We are probably a little ahead of our plan in terms of business development, which is a good thing. You will see our assets at June 30th approaching the $100 million mark and they have continued to grow since then.
CEOCFO: Who is your typical customer?
Mr. Crichfield: Our customers are really a broad cross section of the market. We focus primarily on smaller businesses, their owners, their families, and employees. That is the primary focus now and that will expand as we grow our distribution.
CEOCFO: How are you reaching your potential clients?
Mostly by networking, word-of-mouth, through an active shareholder base and
an active and engaged board of directors. We have also recently formed a
community advisory council to the president, which is composed of
approximately a dozen key leaders in the greater Denver area. We are very
excited about that, as it will be a nice addition to the business
development activities of our board of director.
CEOCFO: What is going on in the community today on the economic side?
Mr. Crichfield: Like most people, we see some green shoots, some signs of stabilization in the marketplace. We do not think we are totally out of the woods yet, as there are certain sectors that may continue to experience stress. For the Denver marketplace in general, most of the evidence is that this marketplace has held up a little bit better than others around the country. Having said that it is still a difficult time, but we are hopeful that the economy has at least flattened out and is starting to show some signs of life.
CEOCFO: Tell me about your focus on the Hispanic members of your community.
Mr. Crichfield: Colorado has a very large diverse Hispanic population; everyone from recent immigrants to fourth generation and more.. We are primarily focused on smaller businesses. We do a lot of outreach and partnerships with various organizations, professions, trade groups etc.
CEOCFO: Other than speaking Spanish, what is different about the population you are trying to reach and how do you serve them better than your competition?
Mr. Crichfield: One interesting thing to note is our having an understanding and an appreciation of this demographic and recognizing that it is not monolithic. The Hispanic community in Denver consists of a diverse group of people, just like most other segments of the population. Our goal is to treat everybody with the same high-touch personal professional service.
CEOCFO: Why come to Solera?
Mr. Crichfield: You come to Solera because like most de novo banks we focus on the business segment with high-touch personal service, but unlike most community banks we have a special sensitivity to various groups in the population, whether it is the Hispanic demographic or other minority demographics for that matter. I think we have a sensitivity to their needs and to providing good quality service to them. About 60% of our original organizers are people that have some minority background, predominantly Hispanic background. It is the culture that we have, the sensitivity that we have, and the approach that we have to those groups.
CEOCFO: What is the competitive landscape as far as with the community banks?
Mr. Crichfield: Well there are a lot of them, so there is plenty of competition in this marketplace. We think we are probably one of the more active banks in terms of really trying to grow the business and grow relationships. We are very active in our sphere of influence, our customer base, our customer acquisition. In terms of numbers and dollars it has been very strong this year.
have you reassured your customers in troubled times?
CEOCFO: Are there new services that you would like to provide?
Mr. Crichfield: Yes and we evaluate that on a pretty constant basis. We have just added this year through an affiliation, wealth management and financial planning services. We are as we speak enriching and expanding our accounts receivable financing capability for small businesses. Another one we just introduced this year is a lending facility, a credit enhancement program through the US Department of Transportation, geared towards disadvantaged business enterprises, primarily contractors in the transportation sector. This is a program that we got involved in through relationships with the major transportation entities here in greater Denver, mainly the RTD and CDOT. We are now the certified lender in Colorado and surrounding areas for this US Department of Transportation program; we call it STEP (Solera Transportation Enhancement Program). So that is another way that we help serve minority and disadvantaged enterprises, whether they be Hispanic, Native American, African American, Asian, or women owned. Those are some of the examples of what we have been up to this year and we continue to look at ways to better serve our customer base.
CEOCFO: When you take on new customer relationships what do look for over and above creditworthiness?
Mr. Crichfield: We are obviously looking for ways that we can add value so even if it is not a bankable situation for us, we strive to add value to that prospective customer by counseling them on what they do need to do to get bankable. We not only do that on a one-on-one situation, but we also do it by participating with other groups on panels, through Chambers of Commerce, or other professional trade associations. We really want to add value even if we canít lend money to that customer right now. We want to find ways to help them.
CEOCFO: Do you find that your customers are surprised with the depth of service?
Mr. Crichfield: Our depth of service is a surprise for some people because we are a new bank; they perhaps did not expect that. But we do have very seasoned people, and that is also part of our message. The company has invested heavily to make sure we have a good cadre of professional bankers. So even though we are new our people are not new, most of them are quite seasoned. We have four very seasoned senior commercial lenders for instance, a fully staffed loan administration function, and a fulltime chief credit officer. We have put the pieces in place to establish a good quality asset base.
CEOCFO: Do you see the need for more branches?
Mr. Crichfield: Right now, as you know we do have just one location as a startup; but what mitigates that a bit are things like Remote Deposit Capture services, where people can scan their checks in their office for instance, and credit them to their account here at Solera. We also have online banking, and we may look to make that even more robust in other ways. Through technology, we have mitigated some of the constraints of having just one location. Having said that we would like to expand our physical footprint a little bit.
CEOCFO: You have reached out to the investment community; make a case with Solera.
Mr. Crichfield: Solera is a strong, well-capitalized and liquid bank with a deep cadre of professional bankers in an exciting market; Denver is a very attractive market from a business standpoint or a quality-of-life standpoint. It is a highly sought after market. Our business plan is a little different; we think our niche specialization on the Hispanic demographic is an important differentiator for Solera. The Hispanic population is large and growing in Colorado, Hispanics make up more than 20% of the population state wide. Here in Denver within a three-mile radius of where we are located it is about fifty percent and it is about thirty percent of the greater Denver metro area. It is an important piece to focus on.
CEOCFO: Final thoughts, what should people reading about Solera National Bancorp remember most?
They should remember a really sincere commitment to help and partner with
our client base.
Solera is a strong, well-capitalized and liquid bank with a deep cadre of professional bankers in an exciting market; Denver is a very attractive market from a business standpoint or a quality-of-life standpoint. It is a highly sought after market. Our business plan is a little different; we think our niche specialization on the Hispanic demographic is an important differentiator for Solera. The Hispanic population is large and growing in Colorado, Hispanics make up more than 20% of the population state wide. Here in Denver within a three-mile radius of where we are located it is about fifty percent and it is about thirty percent of the greater Denver metro area. It is an important piece to focus on. - Douglas Crichfield
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