Two sister banks owned by a California holding company have different names and charters but share employees, including a chief financial officer.

The $650 million-asset Placer Sierra Bank in Auburn and $245 million-asset Sacramento Commercial Bank use many of the same key executives. The banks, whose offices are about 25 miles apart, also refer business to each other.

"This has been a really supportive environment for both sides," said Daryl B. Foreman, president and chief executive officer of Sacramento Commercial.

The banks started sharing employees this spring after San Francisco-based Belvedere Capital Partners acquired both - Placer Sierra in August 1999 and Sacramento Commercial this February. After it bought Placer Sierra, Belvedere began searching for ways to cut costs.

Concerned about the changes, many Placer Sierra managers - including the chief financial officer - left for other companies, Mr. Foreman said.

So Sacramento Commercial had its chief financial officer try to oversee both banks' portfolios. This experiment worked and the arrangement became permanent. Sacramento Commercial also has begun sharing its chief credit officer and human resources director with Placer Sierra, and the banks have combined their credit administration units.

But they do not plan to merge because they are too different, Mr. Foreman said.

Sacramento Commercial, a one-branch bank in the downtown area of California's capital city, only does business lending. Placer Sierra, a former thrift that operates 27 branches in the Sierra foothills east of Sacramento, has been shifting toward commercial accounts but retains a big mortgage portfolio.

It is precisely because they are so different, however, that working together has been beneficial.

For instance, Sacramento Commercial has been making Small Business Administration loans since it was opened in 1984; its expertise has been helpful to Placer Sierra, which began making such loans only three years ago, Mr. Foreman said. Meanwhile, Placer Sierra has referred prospects that it cannot handle to Sacramento Commercial.

Charlotte Bahin, director of regulatory affairs for America's Community Bankers, said independent banks increasingly are looking for ways to pool resources.

After an acquisition, she said, the merged banks often combine back-office operations such as marketing and accounting. In other cases, community banks collaborate on larger loans or on government-guaranteed loans.

"Government loan programs such as SBA lending and Fannie Mae lending are very labor-intensive and specialized, so it makes sense for banks to share personnel," Ms. Bahin said.

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