Flush with fresh capital from its new tribal owners, California's only Native American-owned bank is now seeking to return the favor to all Native Americans.
Seven months ago, the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians injected more than $2 million to recapitalize Borrego Springs Bank. Now the $42 million-asset community bank is tailoring new lending and investment programs to meet Native American needs in California and other western states.
"The Native American community historically has been the most underserved segment by the financial industry," said president and chief executive officer Frank V. Riolo. "Our goal is to be the first bank that's really a true partnership" with Indian tribes, he said.
In the past few months, the Southern California bank has opened its fourth branch, in La Mesa, and is planning two others in Alpine and Poway, closer to the Viejas reservation.
In addition, the bank has expanded its Small Business Administration lending through new loan production offices in Corona, Calif.; the San Francisco Bay Area; and Tucson, Ariz. Two more are planned, in Las Vegas and in Portland, Ore.
All of the branch and loan production office locations are in active small-business areas and are convenient to either the Viejas tribe or other Indian tribes in the West.
Borrego Springs is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to tailor loan products for government infrastructure and economic development. And the bank is working with consultants and a local Small Business Development Corp. to create an eight-week training program for Native American entrepreneurs. The bank will fund start-up businesses, which would receive temporary space in a factory outlet mall being built by the tribe.
"We're very proud to be associated with" the bank, said Anita R. Uqualla, tribal treasurer. "They're a company that knows their stuff, and they're moving right along."
Finally, Borrego Springs is developing tribal trusts and mutual fund investment pools designed for any Native American, with the help of consultants and La Jolla, Calif.-based Scripps Bank.
In December, the tribe injected $2.4 million into the struggling bank, buying a 60% stake and installing five tribal officials on the board. The bank has business relationships with the Viejas Band and another California tribe, and a third tribe is considering its own investment.
"We want to reach out and help as many Native Americans as we can," said Ms. Uqualla, who is also a Borrego Springs director. "We know how difficult it is. We've been there, and we just want to make the process easier."