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2010 Best Company to Do Business With in Marin County: Circle Bank

Author: Beth Galleto
May, 2010 Issue
“We want to say, ‘Yes.’ We’re here to help people realize their goals, and we know that one size does not fit all.” You don’t often hear this kind of talk from a bank; but according to Kim Kaselionis, president/CEO of Circle Bank, this is not the usual bank.

“When you walk into the bank, you see an immediate difference. We’re welcoming and warm, always willing to listen to an idea from the community or a business customer. We’re here to engage in conversation.”

This approach has been successful. The Financial Management Consulting Group (FMC) ranked Circle Bank as number 25 out of 265 banks in California in 2009. It also rated Circle as the highest North Bay community bank under $1 billion in total assets for its financial performance last year. Circle Bancorp, parent company of Circle Bank, reported sustained profitability with a net income of $461,000 for the first quarter of 2010, up 26.7 percent for the comparable period in 2009; deposits increased to $214 million, up 28.8 percent from last year.

“Overall, 2009 was a successful year, despite the difficult banking and regional economic environment,” says Kaselionis. “We gained market share from our existing branch network and established a framework for continued growth in 2010 and beyond.”

Started 20 years ago as New West Thrift & Loan Company, the bank was rebranded as Circle Bank in 2004. Kaselionis explains the symbolism: “What do you think of when you see a circle? Wedding rings, other rings, never-ending, inclusive, welcoming, interdependent. It portrays the bank’s relationship with the community and its customers. We invite people to come in and talk about their plans, even in challenging times. We’re inviting and inclusive.”

In an effort to help jumpstart the local economy, Circle Bank has stepped up its SBA lending program and begun a series of educational seminars; as a Preferred Lender, it offers the full complement of SBA loans. Kaselionis went to Washington, D.C., in March to drum up support for more stimulus money or a jobs bill to funnel additional credit to community banks. She was one of two representatives from California in a delegation of 85 bankers representing the Community Bankers Council of the American Bankers Association (ABA).

“Community banks are the financial engine that drives local economies,” she says. “We provide funding through such programs as SBA to help small businesses maintain themselves and create employment.”

The bank plans to open a branch in San Francisco in May. “By and large, our branches are in the heart of the community,” she says. “In Santa Rosa, Circle is in the [Courthouse] Square. In San Francisco, it will be in Noe Valley, where there isn’t another community bank within a one-mile radius.”

With established locations in Novato, Santa Rosa, San Rafael and Petaluma, the bank is also making plans to relocate its Novato headquarters to 999 Grant Avenue. “We’re pleased that we can now begin the process to help create a downtown gateway,” says Kaselionis. “While there are many additional steps to be accomplished, we anticipate being able to move during 2012.”

Taking the label “community” seriously, each Circle Bank branch has its own budget for donations to community organizations, and employees volunteer in numerous community programs. Kaselionis is involved in Rotary and serves on various nonprofit boards (she’s the most recent past president of the Novato Chamber of Commerce). As an example of a program that benefits everyone, she mentions the Homeward Bound vocational training center at Hamilton Field. One of its programs provides training leading to a culinary certificate. “We buy cookie dough from them, and we bake every day in the bank to provide cookies to our customers. The revenue generation helps them, and there’s nothing like walking into a room where cookies have just come out of the oven.”

Another program the bank supports is the Novato Fire Squirts, which provides a five-day fire camp at a Novato fire station. It gives youth ages 10 to 15 an opportunity to be in an environment with positive role models and to learn life-saving and team-building skills. Kaselionis says, “It’s an amazing program for these children. It concludes with a presentation of skills and a barbecue. It’s very heart-warming to witness the joy and pride on the children’s faces.”

It’s clear that she has a strong sense of pride in the bank’s accomplishments. “I’m proud of the people who work here,” she says. “They have a strong desire to be helpful and develop a positive relationship with the community. I’m very proud of the variety of nonprofit activities we engage in. Our ability to enrich the lives of others is very gratifying.”






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