Mark Mason, chief financial officer of First Alliance Corp., said this week that his task with the subprime lender is done so he will return to a previous career goal-running a banking company.
Mr. Mason, who was brought in three years ago to help shepherd First Alliance through its initial public offering, will be leaving Friday to rejoin Bank Plus Corp., Los Angeles. He will serve as executive vice president, chief operating officer, and chief financial officer of both Bank Plus and Fidelity First Bank, its thrift subsidiary.
The news raised eyebrows in the investment community because it came on the heels of last week's announcement that the American Association of Retired Persons would join a suit against First Alliance. But the two events are unrelated, First Alliance executives said.
In fact, the departure has been planned for months, Mr. Mason said Tuesday. "I've been here three years, and everything I've wanted to accomplish I've done."
Moving to Bank Plus, which has $4.2 billion of assets but only a small portfolio of loans, offers opportunities to build a credit card and mortgage business, he said.
Fidelity First was "one of the last thrift cleanups," he said, and is now "ready to start lending again."
First Alliance agreed to purchase a Standard Pacific Savings last fall, but the agreement expired without a go-ahead from the Office of Thrift Supervision.
First Alliance's chief executive, Brian Chisick, said the failure to buy Standard Pacific was key reason for Mr. Mason's decision to leave.
"His major ambition is to run a major bank," Mr. Chisick said. "He'll do a marvelous job."
Mr. Mason, 39, was often named as the most obvious choice to succeed Mr. Chisick, 59. But Mr. Chisick said in a phone interview Tuesday that he has "no plans other than to run this company" for the next few years.
He said he and Mr. Mason remain "good friends."
First Alliance shares suffered last week when the AARP said it was joining a suit alleging that the company took advantage of a senior citizen. The stock price dipped more than $3, to $12.75, at the start of trading May 6, when the announcement was made. It had recovered to $13.375 by midafternoon Wednesday.
The suit has been going on for two years, Mr. Chisick said, and the company "has tried many times to settle," even offering to rescind the loan.
"The attorneys don't want to settle the suits, they want publicity," he said.
Despite the initial stock price dip, analysts said the AARP action probably will not have long-term effects.
"The AARP issue is still very preliminary," said Jennifer Scutti, an analyst with Prudential Securities, New York. The litigation could continue for years, she said.