Thursday, November 26, 2009

What This Country Needs

Los Angeles County has a population of roughly 11 million people. Not all of these people are natives. Many have come from other places. It is a true melting pot of people with different cultures, religions, languages, shapes, sizes, etc. It is one of the things I love the most about this town. It's why I have never moved away and why I never bad mouth my City of Angels.

For the most part, the citizens of this great city tend to get along. Sure, like every big city, we have our share of problems. But given our population of 11 million, we do pretty great. With one exception....

That's right, the Big Game.

Now I understand the other parts of the country have their version of the Big Game. But none of these compare in scale with ours here on the Left Coast. No offense, of course.

Regardless of the college you attended or did not attend, for one week each year, you're either a Bruin or a Trojan. But what does this have to do with the Country? Well, absolutely nothing! Sorry, but I had to take a moment to say GO BRUINS!!!

Ok, now on to the regularly scheduled program...

As a community banker I attend many local functions. Some of these functions are industry related and some are hosted by community groups. As you can imagine, the tone at many of these functions lately has been fairly depressed. With the economy the way it is, so many are disappointed with the state of the economy and many are struggling to find jobs.

I was asked to attend a local Rotary luncheon this week which featured former standout players from UCLA and USC. Being a proud UCLA alumni, I jumped at the chance. When I got there I saw what I expected. Half the room was decked out in blue and gold and the other in cardinal and gold. As I mingled I heard a lot of the same about the economy. But something was different. Attitudes were different. The people were more positive.

At the end of the luncheon, as I rode the elevator down, I starting thinking about how different this event was compared to the others lately. How positive and happy people appeared, including the unemployed. Then it struck me. Hope!

Those present at the meeting were hopeful about something. They were hopeful that their team would win the Big Game on Saturday. The fact that the economy stunk or that things we not good, for a moment became irrelevant. They smiled, laughed, cheered and were generally optimistic and hopeful.

Now, by saying this please do not attribute my comments to any recent political campaign using a similar slogan. What I am merely trying to say is that as we all struggle through this difficult economic period, be sure to find something that gives you hope. Something that keeps you going. Whether its coaching your kids soccer game or learning a new skill. Whatever it is, find something to keep you occupied and moving forward.

The interesting thing about this whole economic mess is the role that we all play in either improving it or keeping it down. If we all believe that the sky is falling, it certainly will fall. However, if we feel good about our prospects, we'll likely spend a little more, oiling the wheels of economic improvement.

The government can throw all the money it wants at the problem. But if you and I don't believe that things will get better or if we don't at least feel better about ourselves, then no matter how much money is thrown at the problem, it will not be enough.

Today it is Thanksgiving in the U.S. It is a day to give thanks for all that we have. Take time today to spend with your family and let them know how much you appreciate them. Don't just think it, say it.

Many years ago, shortly after graduating from college, I read a book by a motivational speaker named Denis Waitley. Something I read in one of his books really had an effect on me, my career and family life. Denis said (I am recalling so it may not be precise but you'll get the point), "It's not what happens to you that matters, it's how you take it."

So as we move forward in this continuing mess of an economy, first, give thanks for what you can. Afterwards, remember, it's not what happens to you but how you take it. Or, in other words, if you're holding a bag of lemons, make lemonade and then invite people over to share with you.

We will come out of this. It may take longer than we would like but it will happen. Hang in there and make the best of it. Try not to get too down, and by all means, don't do anything crazy. The holidays are some of the toughest times for many people. If that's you, stop and reach out to someone. Find a way to cope and let the moment pass.

Well, I can smell the pies baking so it means its time to go. Happy Thanksgiving everyone and I'll see you back here soon.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It Can Be A Cruel World

Earlier today I sent off a press release to the world proudly announcing that Pan American Bank had taken a big step in bringing social media to its mix. The effort had taken some planning - though not a tremendous amount, given the small size of our shop. But, still, some effort and thought had gone into it.

Floating on air and proud of our little Latino bank, I kissed my daughters and wife goodbye and got into my car and headed off to work. I was ready to take on the world, clear clutter and projects off my desk and ease into my holiday vacation. That's when it happened...

Just as I got on the freeway onramp, my Blackberry began to blow up. Alerts, emails and frantic phone calls. "The blog is creating chaos!!! We're a B-I-G FAIL!!! We and YOU are becoming the laughing stock of the social media community!!!" What?!!

Fortunately there was a line at the freeway onramp that allowed me to read the messages and answer the calls before putting my life at risk on the Los Angeles freeway system.

So what was all the hubbub. Well, a couple things.

First, if you look at this blog, along the right side and below you'll see ads displayed by Google. When I created this blog I was provided the option of adding them onto the blog.

While some people (spammers selling their wares) would like you to believe there is money to be made displaying these links, they are mistaken (have you clicked on one of these links while reading this? Didn't think so). In other words, the Bank is not going to swap lending for Google Ads any time soon.

My only rationale for having the Google Ads is that Google makes its fortune off of these things (they sell the advertising) and I suspect that all things being equal, a bank blog with Google Ads displays higher than blogs without (though I would imagine Google would deny my assertion). I could be wrong but I am entitled to my opinion.

The problem with the ads is not the ads so much as the fact that Google placed ads for Bank of America on the blog and given that we ARE a bank, that seems somewhat contradictory. In fact, by the time I got into the office, the Twittersphere was burning up with this story.

The second problem was that in a past life (before becoming a bank CEO), I had written the most popular ebook for bankers on social media, The Community Bankers Guide to Social Network Marketing. It was featured in many industry magazines and is still a tremendous hit - though it is nearly a year old (a lifetime in social media time). As such, my experience and own advice should have prevented this.

Truth is, the criticism is accurate. While I did input a few domains to block, I did not test the blog to make sure my blocks took. Now I realize that to readers of this blog, that really does not matter. I did not create this blog to "market" products or services. Regardless, many will argue, "why give the competition an open door on your blog." So in that case, my bad and FAIL.

So what now? Well, I still do believe there is value in keeping the Google Ads on the site. Who knows, maybe we'll suddenly start earning some real income as a result of this blog posting! Ok, probably not.

I'll go back and tweak my settings again (and again and again, if necessary). I'll have to walk with my head down at the next social media conference I attend and take endless ribbing from my friends. But in the end, I think this was a good lesson and a great outcome.

Just as no one can look away from the car pulled over by the highway patrol on the side of the road, much attention was brought to my little Latino bank blog. Sure it cost me some personal capital but did it really? Social media is about transparent and honest communication.

At the end of the day, mistakes will be made. What matters is how you handle the mistake and prevent future mistakes.

Thanks for visiting. I look forward (sort of) to hearing your feedback.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Community Banks and the 2010 Census

Recently I was asked by the representative of a local elected official to participate in a grass roots effort directed at promoting awareness and participation in the upcoming 2010 U.S. Census. The Committee that was formed includes members of East Los Angeles' most influential...well...influencers. The committee name...the East Los Angeles Complete Count Committee.

After reviewing the data presented to me by members of the Committee, joining the group was a no brainer. While I always knew there was an important use for the Census data other than determining low- and moderate-income communities for Community Reinvestment Act purposes (the CRA is a bank law that encourages lending, investment and services in certain areas based on Census data), I never realized how important the Census process was for the communities served by the Bank.

The U.S. government utilizes census information relative to population density, levels of income, age, and other factors to determine how to allocate funds across the Country. Studies have found that Los Angeles County - particularly those areas (census tracts) that are heavily Latino-based, lose federal investment monies due to undercounts of residents that take place during the census counting process.

The reasons for the undercounts are many, ranging from lack of understanding to fear (many Latino immigrants, whether documented or not, are skeptical of government officials coming to their doors due to events common in their countries of origin).

East Los Angeles has historically been considered a "hard-to-count" community. What residents need to understand is that the census figures determine how nearly $400 billion in federal funds are disbursed each year.

As the only community bank headquartered in East Los Angeles, it is our responsibility to support efforts that ensure that the local community gets its fair share of federal investment. Such investments include monies related to education, infrastructure, social services and other critical projects.

So, over the course of the past couple weeks the East Los Angeles Complete Count Committee has worked frantically to set up a December 12, 2009, press conference and Latino Census Summit. The event is aimed at reaching out to hard-to-count populations in Los Angeles County. The event will feature television and radio personalities, Latino advocates, and local elected officials. Following the press conference the East Los Angeles Complete Count Committee will host the first annual Latino Census Summit where expert panelists will deliver important information regarding the 2010 census.

As a local corporate citizen it is in our best interest to maximize investment dollars in our community. Investments boost the standard of living of our customers, attract additional investments into the community and generate the need for financial products and services provided by community banks.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Don't Make Yourself Comfortable

I am a member of the Rotary Club of East Los Angeles. We are a small club but a dynamic club.

At today's meeting we had the pleasure of being visited by a team of leaders from our district, including District Governor Tom Novotny from Las Vegas. Tom gave a very moving presentation that included sharing a couple of very personal experiences. These experiences he described as taking him from a member of Rotary to being a Rotarian.

Tom's central theme was how important it is for us as humans to roam outside our comfort zone. The couple stories he shared demonstrated how when he was placed into situations that were very uncomfortable and uncertain, he forced himself outside of his comfort zone and found himself incredibly enriched from the struggles that came with going into the unknown. While I do not have the time to go into the details, let's just say that there was not a single dry eye in the place after his presentation.

As I drove to my next meeting I was replaying his stories and wondering what I would have done if placed in his shoes. And over and over I came up short. I repeatedly rationalized and came up with reasons why I would not have ventured outside MY comfort zone. While I don't think my decision would have made me a bad person, I see in hindsight how I would not have benefitted from the life experiences that the opportunities presented.

One reason why I love Rotary is because it is good people coming together to do good things. Belonging to Rotary makes me feel good about myself. But today I realized that despite my contributions to Rotary, as of today I am only a member of Rotary. What I am not is a Rotarian as I have not had that "Rotarian Moment."

Every now and then I experience something that has a long term effect on my perspective. Today I am happy to say that learned an important lesson. In a sense, my eyes have been opened and I now know that being a Rotarian is much more than being a member of the Rotary. I also know that in order for me to become a true Rotarian I will have to make that leap outside of my comfort zone. Something for me to work on.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Importance of Art

As with most cultures, art is an integral part of everyday life. It is no different in the Latino culture. Cultures tell their story over the course of time through their art. And subsequent generations learn of their history through art.

When we headquarted our bank in East Los Angeles over 45 years ago, our founders wanted for the community to learn and be proud of community's Mexican roots. The founders chose to express the history by engaging a wonderful artist by the name of Jose Reyes Meza. For over 45 years, the entrance of the Bank's headquarters has been guarded by the five murals shown below.

In September 2009, the Bank decided to recommit itself to the support of the local arts. The first effort of this initiative involved exhibiting the works of a family of local artists, the Sibaja family. The Sibaja family is comprised of two brothers and one sister. The exhibition took place on October 24, 2009, during the Bank's 45th anniversary celebration. Subsequent to the event, the Bank has dedicated a section of the main branch to displaying the art of the Sibaja family.

Recently, the local media took notice of the Bank's tie-in to the arts and chose to feature the Bank and the Sibaja family in a piece for Spanish language television.

In an effort to continue our support the arts, Pan American Bank will feature local artists in a series of MasterCard debit cards. The first card will feature the art of Calixto Sibaja. Future versions of the card will also feature talented local Latino artists. The first debit card is expected for release in January 2010.

A prototype of the cards is shown below.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

MALDEF's 35th Annual Awards Gala

On Thursday, November 12th, I attended MALDEF's 35th Annual Awards gala. It was held at the Bonaventure Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles. As usual, the event was a who's who of local and national Latino talent. The over 1,000 attendees included movers and shakers from politics, media, law, business, education and every other industry.

The event honored Eva Longoria-Parker, Dr. Rodolfo Acuña, Anthony Solana Jr. and Anheuser Busch Cos.

Longoria-Parker was awarded with MALDEF's Community Service Award. Years ago I attended a fundraiser that benefitted children with cancer. It was Eva's early days as a supporter and philanthropist. In the years since, Eva's career has continued to grow as well as her personal wealth and network of high-net worth people (she's married to an NBA player). She has taken the opportunity to become more immersed in doing good things. I applaud that.

Rudy Acuña, recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, is one of a handful of people still living that are responsible for the Chicano rights movement that began in the 1960s. If you were to create an all-time panel of Chicano rights activists, Rudy would share a table with Cesar E. Chavez. Seeing him up on stage, still full of life and energy and never apologizing for his commitment to doing the right thing was insprirational to everyone in attendance...even the non-Latinos!

Anthony Solana Jr. received the Legal Service Award (MALDEF is a legal advocate). Anthony is the founder, president, and chairperson of For People of Color, Inc., a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit organization whose mission is to diversity the legal profession. He is also the author of "A Guide to the Law School Application Process For People of Color" and "A Guide to the Bar Examination For People of Color." Anthony received the award for his commitment to helping the community in which grew up. Coincidentally, the church he attended is a block away from Pan American Bank's East Los Angeles headquarters.

All in, it was a very inspiring event. No matter how much I think I've acheived and how much good I've done in this world, events like this humble you and let you know that there is always more that can be done. No matter what your cause or beliefs, get out there and make a difference!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Our Trip to Santa Ana

On the evening of November 2, 2009, I visited the city council in Santa Ana, California.

In an act of appreciation, the city council presented to me, on behalf of Pan American Bank, a proclamation honoring our service to the City of Santa Ana for 40 years.

If you know about our bank you know that we are focused on serving the Latino markets in Southern California. When we set up shop in 1964 we started by establishing ourselves in East Los Angeles - Los Angeles County's Latino stronghold. Five years later we established a branch in Santa Ana - Orange County's Latino hub. Since then we have opened one more branch in East Los Angeles.

Something great that evolved from our interaction with the city council was a request to establish a community-based advisory council. The city council in Santa Ana has been taking a very proactive approach to improving the standard of living of their residents. Part of that initiative is what they call Bank on Santa Ana.

Pan American Bank jumped all over the Bank on Santa Ana program. This program, which seeks to convert the unbanked and under-banked segments of the City of Santa Ana, is in perfect alignment with our mission (see my post on our mission) since roughly 80% of the City of Santa Ana is comprised of Latinos.

As I stated above, the city council requested that Pan American Bank establish a board or committee comprised of community stakeholders that would work with the Bank to ensure that the residents of the City of Santa Ana have access to needed financial services. I thought it was a fantastic idea. Since our headquarters is located in Los Angeles County, an advisory board would ensure that there is always someone in Orange County looking out for community development opportunities and ensuring that needs are consistently being addressed.

We are now in the process of working with the community development officers at the FDIC, Federal Reserve and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to develop a framework that will be successful in achieving these goals. We look to having the framework completed by mid-December and rolling out the program in Santa Ana at the start of the new year.

We are very excited for the new program and we're looking forward to working with the City of Santa Ana at a more intimate level. Since we are a true community bank, what is good for the City of Santa Ana is good for Pan American Bank.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

What's Our Mission?

Back in September I came across an opportunity to participate in a fantastic educational program at UCLA's Anderson School of Management. The program, which spanned roughly 90 hours over the course of 10 days, started with an in depth discussion on the mission of companies.

When I returned to the office I immediately began to explore our mission. According to Professor John M. De Figueiredo, mission is a broad statement of what the organization ultimately wants to become. Based on that definition, I sat down and began a formal exercise to define our formal mission statement.

The factors that I and my team evaluated in creating the mission statement included:

  • What is the vision of the Bank?

  • What will the Bank's business performance look like in the next three to five years if all we do is the same things, ONLY BETTER?

  • Where does the Bank need to head in the next five to ten years to be a strong performer?

After many revisions and discussions with staff and the Bank's Board of Directors, the following Mission Statement of Pan American Bank emerged:

"To transform and empower Latino communities through banking relationships built on trust, service, respect, communication, and guidance."

At the end of the process everyone was proud of our success and of our new mission statement.

Who Is Pan American Bank?

Pan American Bank was established in East Los Angeles in 1964. When the Bank was originally established it was named Pan American National Bank. Later, the Bank converted from a national banking charter to a state banking charter, dropping the "national" from its name.

Pan American Bank was created by its founders specifically to serve the needs of Latinos in Los Angeles. While several people were involved in the founding of the Bank, the majority shareholder and driving force behind the Bank was former U.S. Treasurer Romana Acosta Banuelos.

A couple weeks ago the Bank celebrated its 45 year anniversary. The Bank has stayed true to its mission of serving the Latino community. In the early 1970's the Bank expanded into Santa Ana with the same mission. The Bank today has three offices, two in East Los Angeles and one in Santa Ana.

Introduction to the Pan American Bank Blog

Welcome to the Pan American Bank blog. My name is Jesse Torres and I am the President and CEO of Pan American Bank.

I created this blog to share experiences we are having at the Bank. Along the way I'll share some of my personal experiences.

The goal of this blog is to let you to better understand who we are and what we do.