California bank looks locally after breaking with TARP

NOVATO, CA: Bank of Marin is focusing its communications on promoting local financial health after making national headlines for being one of the first banks to repay its multimillion-dollar loan from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

NOVATO, CA: Bank of Marin is focusing its communications on promoting local financial health after making national headlines for being one of the first banks to repay its multimillion-dollar loan from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

The bank, which operates 12 branches in California and a commercial loans office in San Francisco, is instituting a number of local programs that focus on community outreach in the coming weeks.

“We're responsible, with local businesses, to help and support our community to get out of this situation,” said Malin Clark, first VP, director of products and marketing for the bank. “We're shifting the message away from TARP to ‘We're strong and stable, conservative in managing business, and how can we help you do the same thing?'”

The bank will meet with local advisory boards – comprised of community leaders and business owners - between April 21 and April 30 to determine which new or existing bank programs will meet the community's needs. In addition, its employees will also be participating in a number of local financial literacy events between April 18 and 25, including "Teach Children to Save Day" on April 21, when they'll be instructing schoolchildren in grades K through 12.

And it will continue outreach to the media and other stakeholders on a local and national level, discussing the bank's perspective on a variety of issues.

“We're not part of all the issues on Wall Street,” said Clark. “We're a community bank, and we're right down the street.”

However, when the bank became part of TARP, it became part of a national story. The bank began working with Peppercom in January 2009, and the firm handles most of the bank's PR, including corporate and financial communications. (A local PR firm handles community relations.)

“We didn't have Peppercom to go through the TARP application, and when we got national coverage, we were taken aback,” said Clark. “The main thing was to make sure that all of our stakeholders understood why we were doing it. We [participated in the TARP program] not because we needed the money, but because we were performing very well and thought it was the best thing to do to make sure that we serve the needs of our community.”

It announced on March 31 that it would repurchase $28 million in preferred stock from TARP. The decision, which was also made by other small banks, has been incorporated into its communications, including talking points with its employees who, along with bank executives, have spoken directly with customers and other constituents.

Clark said the bank will focus on how it's a “local leader” with strong ties to the community.

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