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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on January 3rd, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 43 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 43

Mijn Rabobank

Dive into the Dutch connections of a community bank

BY FRANK GONZALES

Rabobank is a household name on the Central Coast, serving the needs of thousands of residents, businesses, and farmers—as any bank in the area does. It appeared locally in 2007 after acquiring Mid-State Bank & Trust.


Two continents:
Steve Harding is regional president for Rabobank, running the area that extends from the Monterey and Salinas County lines down to Northern Santa Barbara County.
PHOTO COURTESY OF STEVE HARDING

Rabobank is better known internationally—and especially in its country of origin, the Netherlands, where its long-form name is Coöperatieve Centrale Raiffeisen-Boerenleenbank B.A.

The bank’s Dutch moniker reveals a great deal about it and why, of all places, it decided to begin its expansion into the United States in the agricultural heartlands of California. Translated into English, the name roughly means “Central Cooperative Raiffeisen Farmer’s Grant Bank.”

Raiffeisen was an early European pioneer of cooperative community banks, and Rabobank has championed an approach to local, customer-focused community banking over its history. That’s why when Rabobank began to expand in California, it did so by acquiring a number of rural, community banks that already shared many of Rabobank’s values. And instead of managing the new banks from afar, Rabobank Group set up an autonomous new member called Rabobank N.A., headquartered in Roseville, Calif. Even this group was split into six separately managed California community banks, one of which extends from the Monterey and Salinas County lines down to Northern Santa Barbara County. Regional President Steve Harding runs this section.

Harding recently put more perspective on Rabobank’s decision to begin its U.S. operations in West Coast agriculture: “California obviously could be a country on its own based on its agricultural production,” he said. Considering that California would be the world’s eighth largest economy and the fifth largest producer of food and other agriculture as an independent nation, starting up in intensively farmed areas like the Central Coast begins to make sense. And so far, Rabobank’s new venture has paid off.

Harding explained that they’ve grown the business about 30 percent a year for the last several years—“and we’re going to continue to expand on that,” he said.

From his office in Arroyo Grande, Harding manages the mid-Central Coast region that includes Santa Maria. In this role, he said, “I oversee all of the bank’s retail operations: retail, commercial, and ag operations in the region.” Harding is in charge of 24 Rabobank branches with a total of about 550 employees. Because Rabobank was new to the Central Coast, most employees stayed in the positions they held with their former employer.

“When Rabobank acquired Mid-State Bank & Trust, they did not have a presence here in our area, and so they were able to keep all of the customer-facing positions and employees,” Harding said.

Harding himself was the former Community Bank president for Mid-State Bank & Trust.

At first glance, not so much has changed since Rabobank took over. Harding underlined that nearly all decisions are still made locally for each of the six regions, and he noted that Rabobank “actually increased the amount we’re able to give back to the community” through a “mini foundation committee.” The changes are more visible when taking into consideration the bank’s part of Rabobank Group, whose resources and international presence have become central to Rabobank N.A.’s ascent.

“What we’re able to do is deliver a community banking experience to our customers, combined with products and multiple services and sales-delivery channels of a bigger bank,” Harding explained. “So while we still have the local community customer service, we have a lot more products and services to choose from.”

And then there’s the international flair that influences the U.S. operations.

“In the Netherlands, they’re a little bit further ahead of us when it comes to corporate social responsibility and sustainability,” Harding said.

To that end, the local Rabobank has installed solar panels at four branches and electric vehicle charging stations along Highway 101.

 “We actually have a formal sustainability committee here at the bank to discuss issues and different products to assist the bank in being a good corporate citizen,” Harding said.

In addition to bringing some of Rabobank’s Dutch business culture to the Central Coast, there’s an ongoing effort to build personal relationships across Rabobank Group. Along these lines Harding said, “We have people who visit us from the Netherlands on a fairly regular basis. They don’t necessarily run the bank, but they help us with particular projects, or new product development.” He also said that “[the Dutch members of Rabobank] send our key managers over to the Netherlands to share our ideas as well.” Harding himself went to Utrecht last year and was able to share his ideas with Dutch bankers and people from Rabobank’s other international operations.

As for future expansion plans into Los Angeles or San Francisco, along the lines of how Rabobank expanded from agriculture in the Netherlands and moved into major cities like Amsterdam, Harding says, “probably not.”

“[Rabobank] actually [doesn’t] have intentions of incorporating into the larger cities or urban areas. They like staying in the rural areas,” he said.

Whatever happens, next time you visit a Rabobank, don’t be afraid to offer a dank u wel instead of the more traditional thank you as you leave.

Contact Intern Frank Gonzales at intern@santamariasun.com.