With its acquisition of Glendale Federal Bank safely behind it, California Federal Bank has kicked off a series of initiatives intended to ramp up revenues.
According to president and chief operating officer Carl B. Webb, the $56.2 billion-asset thrift plans to reduce its focus on mortgage-related assets, open new banking centers to serve small business, and hire more commercial banking talent.
"To add value at this organization, we need to move away from what has year-in year-out been the traditional thrift product," Mr. Webb said.
Roughly 80% of Cal Fed's earning assets are either directly or indirectly tied to mortgage products, Mr. Webb added. The thrift company's goal is to reduce that percentage to 60% by 2001.
"Our challenge here everyday in trying to become bank-like really lies on the asset side," Mr. Webb said.
To help build a bigger nonmortgage portfolio, Cal Fed plans to offer more small-business and middle-market loans throughout California. Within the next 12 to 18 months, Cal Fed plans to augment its three business banking centers in Glendale, Bakersfield, and Orange County with five more throughout the state. The new offices would likely be placed in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, San Jose, San Diego, and Los Angeles.
"We need more bases from which to go out and market a business banking line of products," Mr. Webb said.
To manage these new offices, Cal Fed plans to hire several commercial bankers. The thrift has already beefed up its executive ranks with people from Wells Fargo & Co. and Bank of America Corp.
The experience these executives bring with them gives Cal Fed a competitive edge, said Mr. Webb, who considers Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Washington Mutual Inc. his thrift's toughest competitors.
The effort to become more like a bank also could aid Cal Fed in another area-attracting acquirers.
Financier Ronald O. Perelman, along with partner and Cal Fed chief executive officer Gerald J. Ford, own roughly 42% of Cal Fed's parent Golden State Bancorp.
Since the Cal Fed/Glenfed deal was announced early last year, observers have viewed the merged thrift as a takeover target.
"They are a good size, and banks that want to move to California have to look at them," said Thomas O'Donnell, an analyst with Salomon Smith Barney in New York. "If and when the day comes, the more bank-like Cal Fed is, the better."
Banks generally have not been interested in buying large thrifts. But Cal Fed has a 369-branch statewide franchise that would be enticing to banks, especially if the thrift offers a more bank-like product mix.
"We have positioned this company smack dab in the middle of the road," Mr. Webb said. "When somebody makes the strategic decision to come to California, they have to ... seriously consider us as an entry vehicle."
But departing from the monoline thrift model is necessary regardless of Cal Fed's standing as an acquisition target, Mr. Webb argued.
"Anytime you think of us, you think 'opportunistic seller,'" Mr. Webb said. "But we're not waving our hands. These bank-like initiatives are the right thing to do for this company, whether there's a buyer right around the corner or whether I get a gold watch from this place in 15 or 16 years."