Clovis News

Losing bid could have saved County Bank jobs

It didn't have to be this way. Maybe a Dutch white knight could have rescued County Bank.

More information about County Bank's demise continues to be revealed, including that the community banking arm of Dutch giant Rabobank was one of at least two other institutions interested in taking it over.

Instead, Westamerica was the winner, taking over County Bank in early February.

Merced-based County Bank's former CEO, the leader of the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce and several employees, however, believe Rabobank would have been a better fit for the community because it had less of an operational overlap with County Bank, which suggests that fewer jobs would have been lost.

Already, Westamerica has announced plans to close eight branches May 15.

Five of those branches are in the central San Joaquin Valley: North Clovis, Sunnyside in Fresno, Coalinga, Farmersville and Lemoore. It's unclear what will happen to the workers at those branches.

Westamerica, Rabobank and one other firm were the only ones to respond late last year after Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. contacted 163 financial institutions about County Bank.

Evaluating bids includes complex equations that weigh what is paid for the assets alongside potential losses.

In the end, as with any business, the FDIC cares most about the bottom line: Which bid will cost the federal insurance fund the least?

The FDIC plans to disclose bid proposals online, though they weren't released by midday Friday.

In winning, Westamerica ended up with the bank's $1.3 billion in deposits and $1.7 billion in assets.

Before the takeover, Westamerica had $3.1 billion in deposits and $2.4 billion in loans.

While taking County Bank's customer base, it signed a deal that lets it pick and choose buildings and leases. Anything left over will be sold by the FDIC.

Rabobank bid on the deposits, loans and buildings, spokesman Andy Frokjer said, because it was a natural expansion of its community and agriculture banking model. That model is concentrated in the Valley's southern end and along the coast.

Rabobank is perhaps best known in the Valley for being the corporate title sponsor of the Bakersfield arena where the state high school wrestling championships are held.

Rabobank is the 24th-largest bank in the world.

It's had a presence in California since 2002, when it acquired Valley Independent Bank. It now has 83 branches across the state with $4.8 billion in deposits and $8.4 billion in assets.

"It was a competitive bid," Frokjer said. "We were a bit surprised and disappointed that we didn't get [it]. County Bank would have been a very good fit." The company's goal was to keep as many of the employees and not close any branches, since there was very little overlap.

Former County Bank CEO Thomas Hawker had heard of Rabobank's bid and believes it would've been best for the bank's work force. "I think it would have been a better mesh," he said.

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