Poppy Bank, launched in 2004 and with total assets of about $1.5 billion, changed its name from First Community Bank in November. Khalid Acheckzai, formerly chief financial officer at the bank, was named CEO in December.
How long have you been with First Community, now Poppy Bank?
About three years.
Before that you worked as a CPA?
I was at Crowe Horwath, a CPA firm, about sixth or seventh in the nation. They’re international, too. They focus predominantly on banks. Before that I was part of Perry Smith, a northern California audit firm. I am one of the few people who liked banking.
You chose banking?
I chose it because my grandfather had a background in banking. Growing up as a kid, talking to him — he traveled around the world. Even though I was in public accounting and consulting, all I ever did was banks. I started out as a teller at Bank of America when I was in college.
You really do love banking?
(Laughs) Exactly. Usually people see banking only from the finance side or the lending side. While I was in college I worked for Bank of America centralized underwriting. I did financial statements, loan covenants. Then they made me an analyst, a credit officer.
Then you were setting up financing for tech companies?
Exactly. I worked for Silicon Valley Bank for about a year and a half. Then I went to Perry Smith. I implemented SOX 404 (Sarbanes-Oxley Act, 2002, which mandated risk assessment for publicly traded companies, internal financial controls and reporting). I did banks year-round.
You were just auditing banks?
Yes. I had the background in banking, being a teller.
Poppy Bank has tripled in assets in about four years. What was it when you came?
It was right around $900 million.
It has grown half again since you arrived?
That’s remarkable growth?
It is. We have been fortunate. We have a solid strategy.
Where has that growth come from? The East Bay, Walnut Creek? Milpitas?
We added the Milpitas branch in 2015, right after I started here. We started Windsor, and we’re starting Menlo Park. That will open April 2, that’s our goal. We are North Bay-based, but we have branches in the rest of the Bay Area as well. Our small-business lending team is in Roseville.
We don’t need a branch on every street corner, but we’re trying to have one in every county. We like to use technology. A lot of our business clients use remote-deposit capture. They don’t need to come into a branch.
Will the Menlo Park branch, soon to open, be primarily for tech lending?
We have a lot of loans in that area already. We do lending in all of California. Our main area is the North Bay, then the Bay Area. We have SBA lenders out of state.
Arizona, Washington and Oregon?
Exactly. We also added a team in Temecula. They are focused on SBA, small businesses.
In November you changed your brand. But the parent company is still First Community Holdings?
You changed just the DBA but not the parent?
Yes. Not the parent.
You had name confusion in the marketplace?
Yes. We were First Community, but we were not first.
Is there any other entity with a name close to Poppy Bank?
We went from one side where people could barely remember us. Now, some people may like the name, some may not. It’s the state flower, the California golden poppy. At first it was a little different. But it works (as a bank name).
Your aim is to create a distinctive (trade)mark with the name, like Apple Computer?
Exactly. Yahoo, Google, Amazon. These are very distinct names. But people remember the name. If we were going to change it, might as well go unique. A lot of banks have the word “First” in them. A lot have “Community.”
Whose idea was to rename it Poppy Bank?
It was our chairman, Bill (Gallaher). It was decided at the board.
Before we grow even more. This is the smallest we’re going to be. The more branches you add, later it would be more cost, signage.
In a sense it’s like starting a new bank?
In the branding, exactly. The sooner you do it, the better.
How long had Gallaher been contemplating the change?
It had come up before, off and on, at the board level.
It seems like a fun and interesting shift?
It has been. You have to change pretty much everything. We’re still using “formerly First Community Bank.” That will be gone by midsummer.
Did someone at the bank study the associations of the word “poppy”?
That was considered. It was discussed. That’s the state flower. We looked at the positive aspect.
What was the second contender?
I don’t know if there was really one. All kinds of names were thrown out there. This one was the front-runner. We considered Republic Bank. California Republic was taken. There used to be a bank called TomatoBank down south. It was acquired a few years ago (by Royal Business Bank in Los Angeles).
In terms of growth beyond Menlo Park, where will you go?
Having an actual branch in Roseville, beyond the lending office. That might make sense. We have a good number of borrowers over there. Sacramento has been growing.
As leader of the bank, do you visit the satellite offices?
Yes. I was in Roseville yesterday.
Have you hired for the Menlo Park branch?
We have a branch manager. It will be about five people. It will be off El Camino, one light down from Sand Hill Road, in the Stanford Shopping Center.
Sand Hill Road, the heart of the VC community?
(Laughs) I don’t know if VCs will be our target, but that is a great location. Starting up north, we have Santa Rosa, Windsor, Oakmont, Petaluma, Corte Madera, Alameda, Walnut Creek, Milpitas then Menlo Park. We could go to the 580 corridor, Pleasanton area.
You are thinking one branch per county, expanding into California?
Yes. With technology, there is no reason to have more than one in a county, except here, near our base. We’re a California bank, a North Bay bank.
Beyond geographic expansion, are there other plans for growth?
We’d like to use technology more, offering online banking more, online account opening. Cybersecurity is a big concern. We are assessing the risks. That’s just one avenue. Our servers are in Phoenix as opposed to here. That really helped us during the fires. We’re backed up in Florida. I wasn’t comfortable having it here. That was one of the first changes I made.
James Dunn covers technology, biotech, law, the food industry, and banking and finance. Reach him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-4257.