Turf War

As megabanks make a grab for market share, black institutions hold their ground via joint ventures and new financial products

exceeded expectations. We plan to keep growing, either by starting new branches as we did in Paterson, or via acquisitions."

But Prezeau hasn’t overlooked developing opportunities within the city that the bank has served for 25 years. "We have an excellent relationship with the city of Newark," he says. "We recently added a new system that enables customers to pay bills to the city, such as water bills and traffic violations, with their credit cards. This has been a very popular program for us, with outstanding growth potential."

Prezeau insists he doesn’t spend a great deal of time worrying about inroads from larger banks. "They do compete for some of our CRA customers, offering loans to solid companies that we might serve, but that’s a relatively small part of our business," he maintains. "Our core customer base includes local churches and not-for-profit organizations."

Across the country, in Los Angeles, Founders National Bank of Los Angeles (No. 19 on the be banks list with $104.5 million in assets and $94.6 million in deposits) is getting ready to serve a much different slice of the African American market as the key to its expansion plans. In 1998, control of the institution shifted to a celebrity trio consisting of basketball star-cum-entrepreneur Magic Johnson, superstar singer Janet Jackson and Jheryl Busby, the entertainment executive who served as the president of Motown Records. Under the banner JJB Limited Partnership, the three pai
d a total of nearly $2.5 million for a 60% stake.

The new owners, especially Johnson and Jackson, will raise the profile of the institution. They have agreed to support Founders with public appearances and personal endorsements. As a result, the bank will now pursue African American customers connected with the entertainment and sports industries.

"We plan to get our house in order before we invite guests to visit," says Founders President and CEO Carlton J. Jenkins. "Therefore, we have been spending our time working on our computer systems, our physical plant and our services. With the types of people we’ll be aiming for, we’ll only have one opportunity to live up to their expectations. We’ll have to be perfect."

Besides the entertainment industry, Founders will seek accounts from be 100s companies as well as Fortune 500 corporations. In fact, the bank raised $4.3 million in corporate investments and counts Arco Oil Co., Bank of America, Citibank, Shell Oil and State Farm Insurance Co. among its preferred shareholders. "We plan to offer [our new customers] everything," says Jenkins, "from mutual funds to contract negotiation, from venture capital investments to artists’ representation. Already, we’ve begun to move into entertainment lending, a new area for us."

At the same time, "We have to protect our base while expanding into new markets," Jenkins asserts. "Our top priorities will remain small business, auto and consumer personal loans."

If there’s a cautionary note in this symphony of growth, it’s sounded by

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