Each year, the Journal checks in with some of the key figures in commercial banking in Sonoma, Solano, Marin, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties. Here is our conversation with Alex Stefani, senior vice president and director of income property lending for Luther Burbank Savings.
What two or three elements of the commercial banking business have changed in the last five years?
ALEX STEFANI: Overall, credit quality has improved as a result of healthy market conditions and growth in the economy. In turn, competition has increased within the banking sector due to the availability of credit from various financing sources. Increased competition places an emphasis on the necessity for an efficient and swift loan process highlighted by timely execution. Over the past several years, we have refined our loan process to deliver a best-in-class customer experience.
In the North Bay specifically, what market forces might change significantly in 2019 and beyond, and why?
STEFANI: Without a doubt, the lasting impact of the 2017 wildfires continues to shape the path forward. The community has struggled with housing stock as long as I have been a resident of Sonoma County and that challenge has only been exacerbated by the wildfires. Similar to much of California, there is a financial hurdle to the development of affordable as well as market-rate housing. The continued development of additional housing is crucial to supporting all demographics throughout the North Bay’s population.
How have customer profiles and requirements changed? For example, are customers generally more cautious or bullish in their projects?
STEFANI: The effects of the Great Recession are not lost on today’s investors, and for that reason, I find our customers to be quite balanced in their financial approach. As lenders, we must continue to be logical as well. The strong credit quality and increased competition I noted earlier can gradually lead to a loosening of underwriting standards.
What’s your institution’s long term view for business in the North Bay?
STEFANI: Luther Burbank Savings has maintained its presence as a retail savings bank founded in Santa Rosa. While we will always remain committed to providing optimal savings vehicles, we have grown our commercial real estate lending platform, and more recently our business banking product suite, in an effort to best serve the present and future needs of the North Bay business community.
Most inspiring commercial banking story you were part of in the past two years?
STEFANI: I recently had the opportunity to cultivate a relationship with a local developer seeking permanent financing for a unique project. There had been hurdles with other lenders, but we were able to customize a lending product that suited the client’s needs. The closing process became cumbersome due to an issue with the existing lender (at no fault of the client); however, we were able to seamlessly make reasonable accommodations for the client and ease their nerves. In the end, the client was pleased with our execution and was able to move their attention to other projects knowing that this financing was in place.
Senior vice president and director of income property lending
Luther Burbank Savings
520 Third Street, fourth floor, Santa Rosa, CA 95401; 707-578-9216
Year you assumed this position: 2017
How long have you worked in commercial banking?: For the past 14 years, I have worked in commercial banking with an emphasis on investor-owned commercial real estate.
Read other conversations with this year's North Bay leaders in commercial banking.