A small Southern California thrift is moving into an emerging entrepreneurial center to fill a trust management void left by the departure of two giant commercial banks.

PFF Bancorp, a $2.1 billion-asset company based in Pomona, Calif., has opened a trust office in Riverside - a county seat abandoned by both BankAmerica Corp. and the since-acquired First Interstate Bank of California. Riverside County contains such wealthy desert enclaves as Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage, and Indian Wells.

"We think we have a niche there," said Yvonne Knight, a PFF vice president who has lived in Riverside for 28 years. "The commercial bank trustees consider accounts under $1 million small, but we're O.K. with that," Ms. Knight said.

PFF, formerly known as Pomona First Federal, has close to $200 million in trust assets under management in accounts at its established offices in Claremont and Hemet.

"People like local administration," Ms. Knight added. "They don't like the idea of a 100 accounts sitting on a desk in a cubicle in Pasadena."

First Interstate had a private banking office in Riverside from 1993 until 1995, but then started working that territory from nearby Palm Springs. A private banker who worked at First Interstate said the bank's decision to shutter the Riverside office was part of an overall cutback rather than any lack of opportunity.

"It's a combination of entrepreneurial and old money," the banker said. "Riverside has a lot of real estate wealth."

The private banking units of California giants BankAmerica and Wells Fargo & Co. have decided to forgo the emerging affluent in communities like Riverside in favor of targeting wealthier clients elsewhere, said a trust executive who works in Southern California.

"There are a significant number of family-owned businesses in Riverside," the executive said. "But those types of accounts still fall below the bar these superregional banks have set for private banking of $2 million to $3 million."

BankAmerica closed its private banking office in Riverside late last year. BofA private bankers now serve the county from an office in Rancho Mirage, a bank spokeswoman said.

Wells Fargo also serves Riverside from an office in Rancho Mirage.

PFF, therefore, sees an opportunity to take on clients directly in Riverside. The new office, which officially opened on July 1, will offer individual investment management, trust administration, estate settlement, individual retirement accounts, and employee benefit and profit sharing plans.

Joining Ms. Knight in the new location is vice president of business development Carolyn Cox, who once worked in First Interstate's Riverside office. She has also worked for Sumitomo Bank, Sanwa Bank, and First Trust Bank.

"A lot of people are very upset that Bank of America left them," Ms. Knight said. "We were missing the boat by not being there."


As a result of a holding company restructuring, Zurich-based Credit Suisse placed Rudi Stalder as the head of its private banking business for the western hemisphere. Previously, Mr. Stalder was the chief financial officer of CS First Boston, Credit Suisse's investment banking arm.

A large part of his new purview is the bank's private client services in North America, headed by Barry R. Sloane, a managing director in New York.

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