Farmers & Merchants Meet the New Branch
by Nick Kopinga
For the past five years, Farmers & Merchants Bank has served the residents of San Clemente with its distinctive brand of service, treating each of its customers like members of its extended family. As a tight-knit community that values local relationships and personal service, San Clemente quickly found F&M to be a great fit. Unfortunately, the bank’s initial location was fast becoming a tight fit as new customers joined the fold.
After moving into its beautiful new location last month on N. El Camino, F&M can finally stretch out and make itself at home. Customers can enjoy the benefit of 2,100 square feet of additional space, copious parking and architectural features that are teeming with local flavor. The interior of the branch even features paintings by local artists.
But Ada Baker, F&M’s San Clemente Branch Manger will tell you that despite all of the physical changes, the heart and soul of F&M remains firmly intact, and that is service.
“It’s the personal touch that has helped us grow, both here in San Clemente and throughout Southern California,” she says.
A journey back to the roots of F&M helps to explain just how the bank’s one-of-a-kind organizational culture came to be. Way back in 1907, C.J. Walker founded Farmers & Merchants Bank of Long Beach during a time of great economic turmoil and widespread uncertainty … sound familiar?
In the early days of F&M, the Bank made a name for itself as a dependable institution that would safeguard local residents’ funds and help to improve the quality of life and infrastructure of the city through community service. As the bank expanded to new Southern California locations, so did its service to local communities. The bank is now actively involved in all 22 locations where it operates branches.
In no city is this more evident than San Clemente. F&M and its employees are actively involved in such organizations as the Boys & Girls Club, the San Clemente Chamber of Commerce, Casa Romantica and the Exchange Club.
Intertwined with F&M’s tireless commitment to community service is a personalized approach to customer service that you aren’t likely to find at a large, national bank. This has helped F&M forge relationships that have spanned generations. And these relationships are the nourishment that has fed the bank’s organic growth into one of the region’s most highly regarded community banks.
“We see ourselves as more than just ‘bankers’ and if our customers require any special attention, whether it is with a loan, a mortgage or just the day-to-day management of their account, we are here to meet their needs.”
The Bank has also set itself apart from its large, multinational competitors in the controversial arena of debit fees. When Bank of America recently announced that it would be charging its customers a monthly fee for the use of debit cards, F&M assured its customers that they would not be charged these fees and their checking would continue to be free.
This critical combination of loyalty and service stems from the fact that F&M treats each of its customers like members of its extended family. It would only be natural that F&M’s employees are also part of the family tree. F&M boasts one of the strongest employee retention rates of any organization in the region. More than 100 employees have worked for the bank for at least 15 years, with an additional 65 eclipsing the 20-year mark. Even the sight of a 30-year veteran is not uncommon.
As for Baker who manages the San Clemente office this is her 13th year. “As soon as I began working here,” she says, “it was apparent that this was a place of unbelievable loyalty and support. And it has been amazing to be part of its growth over the years.”
Of course, longevity is only half the equation for a community Bank. F&M also goes to great lengths to ensure that its local branches have local talent.
Meet Kevin Middleton who serves as operations manager and lives in San Clemente with his wife and 4 children. In addition, more than half of the staff resides locally including Beau Poteet, new accounts representative who is a San Clemente native and proud graduate of San Clemente High School class of 2006, having lived in the community his entire life. Many of the bank’s customers have relationships with the staff outside of the bank through schools, service projects, community events and neighborhood ties.
“To properly serve the residents of San Clemente, we knew that we had to have a staff that understood the many factors that make San Clemente residents unique,” said Baker. “I think the reason we have built such a loyal following here is due to our ability to capture the spirit of San Clemente with every customer we service. You won’t find a more local bank.”
So as you meander along El Camino Real on one of San Clemente’s trademark sunny days stop in and pay a visit to the new Farmers & Merchants Bank, Member FIDC. Park in one of the extra parking spots, enjoy the additional space inside and check out the local art; but don’t be fooled by appearances. At F&M, it will always be business as usual. It has been for 104 years and counting.