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Banking & Financial Services

Q&A with Bank of America Inland Empire Market President Retiree Al Arguello; A 53 Year-Long Career



This year marks Al Arguello’s 53 years with Bank of America, and his retirement as Inland Empire president. We sat down with Al to talk about the evolution of the banking industry and the changes he’s seen within the Inland Empire overall.

Q: How has the banking industry changed since you began your career?

I started working for Bank of America right out of high school as a bank teller in 1968, so you can imagine I have seen quite a bit of change in the past 53 years. There were no ATMs, no online banking services, and certainly no smart phones.  The bank was only open from Monday through Thursday, and not even for a full day – we closed at 3 p.m. 

Architectural drawing of Bank America San Bernardino

Everything was done on paper, carbon copies and files. Even deposits from the Inland Empire were sent every evening by courier to a central vault in downtown Los Angeles. And if a branch manager was late getting a deposit to a courier, he or she had to drive to L.A. to make sure it was properly recorded.

On some days, like when Social Security checks arrived, the local bank branch became the social gathering of the week for senior citizens as they waited in line to deposit their checks. I even used to set up 50 or more chairs for seniors on those days. Bank of America has always supported local community businesses, and on some days, we’d even have a local auto dealer bring over a new car to display on the branch lobby floor as an incentive for people to apply for a car loan.

Today, more than 80% of checks are deposited outside the four walls of a bank branch – which tells you a lot about how people have embraced technology for the most common self-service transactions. But bank branches will always play an important role for Bank of America, more commonly serving as destinations for more complex financial needs, loans and planning. 

Q: How has the Inland Empire changed over the past years?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been a resident of the Inland Empire for more than 35 years now and have seen incredible growth. 

The Inland Empire is a large area, and that includes the Coachella Valley. When I started, the Coachella Valley was a tale of two cities – the wealthy areas and the very poor ones.  What was rewarding was to see was the creation of some great nonprofit organizations that supported those less fortunate, and to help direct bank capital and grants to the region serving as a catalyst for economic growth for disadvantaged communities.   

Another major change was the continued expansion of the Ontario airport as a major freight center, and the overall establishment of the Inland Empire as a major logistics center. More than 40 percent of all the imports that come into our local ports make their way to our warehouses. Add tourism, hospitality and leisure to logistics, and Ontario Airport truly fueled the Inland Empire’s economic muscle over the past decades.  

Q: What are some of your proudest accomplishments during your time as a bank president? 

As an immigrant from Nicaragua, and the first to attend college in my family, working at the bank sparked my lifelong passion to help the financial lives of customers in our communities. In my 14 years as Bank of America’s Inland Empire president, I came into the role just before the great Recession and the foreclosure crisis that rocked the nation but certainly the region. As the crisis unfolded, I brought together many of the leaders across the housing industry to identify solutions for families at risk of losing their homes and to establish sustainable ways to maintain homeownership. This was the beginning of the Housing Opportunities Collaborative of the Inland Empire, which supports nonprofit agencies helping distressed families facing foreclosure and so much more today. 

Coming out of the recession, small businesses in the region were also suffering along with new start-ups.  I took the same collaborative approach in creating the Micro Enterprise Collaborative of Inland Southern California, which encourages micro-business development in the region and helps identify resources and access to capital. Today, the Micro Enterprise Collaborative has helped countless local entrepreneurs grow and succeed. 

I also am proud of helping to direct tens of millions of dollars in philanthropic capital to many important organizations across the Inland Empire – from the High Desert to San Bernardino and Riverside, and out to Palm Springs and the rest of the Coachella Valley. The bank has one of the largest corporate philanthropies, and I had the important honor of helping nonprofits address basic needs like food and housing security, jobs and education needs, and even the arts that serve as important economic drivers. The new Cheech Museum for Latin Art in Riverside is estimated to generate over $20 million annually for the region, for example. 

In the end, I hope I’ve made lasting impacts helping to address the region’s challenges to forward economic stability for families, workers, veterans, homeless and distressed communities.

Q: Given your tenure at the bank working closely with the Inland Empire business community, is there any advice you’d give to business owners?

As our local businesses slowly but surely regain their footing after a uniquely challenging year, we’ve seen encouraging signs of progress towards economic recovery with increased confidence from small businesses expecting their revenue to increase over the next 12 months and plans to hire. As business owners navigate the path forward, it’s important to take what we’ve learned from the past year and apply it to the changing future. Small steps such as investing to ensure you attract top talent, evaluating short and long-term goals, and implementing operational shifts such as increasing your digital sales strategy and reevaluating your company’s impact on the community all can help. And, as I have already pointed out, it’s also important to invest in your community to ensure overall strong quality of life.

The Inland Empire Business Journal (IEBJ) is the official business news publication of Southern California’s Inland Empire region - covering San Bernardino & Riverside Counties.

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Banking & Financial Services

Rate Changes are Looming: Follow Long-Term Game Plan for Winning Capital Decisions



By Greg Martinez-Miller

While basketball fans everywhere are following NBA schedules, business owners are tracking the 2024 Fed meeting schedule. But just as true hoops enthusiasts know that game strategy is comprised of more than three-point shots, so should business owners remember that interest rates aren’t the only factor for long-term success. Last December, the Fed said that it expected to cut rates, which are at a 22-year high, three times in 2024. Yet when the central bank met in March, it left rates unchanged, saying it didn’t want to jeopardize lower inflation and healthy economic growth.

So, when the Federal Open Market Committee meets again on April 30-May 1, anticipation will be high. Prognosticators are on every channel, wondering whether the central bank will keep its 5.25-5.5% target rate unchanged again, or if it will announce the first of its three cuts. And if it does, observers ask, how could lower rates impact growth in the U.S. economy? 

As a commercial banker who has watched the interest rate scoreboard over the past 16 years, here’s my advice from the sidelines: Stick to your long-term game plan. Put your company in a position to win the balance-sheet game when it comes to the cost of capital.

Here are my four key strategies from my dogeared playbook to keep your head in the game:

1. See the court

Do not focus on interest rates alone for your capital strategy. You need to be aware of other negotiated factors when funding your company’s financial future. Besides interest rates, other terms — loan maturity, advance rates, and guarantees — can offer important value. Many times, it makes good strategic sense to pivot from the interest rate toward other terms to advance your company’s medium- and long-term game plan.

2. Do not overreact to the officials

The Fed is like an economic referee, making calls to control the economy’s pace. Do not lose your cool when the whistle blows. Three rate reductions are still expected this year, but when the central bank plans to make that call, no one knows – yet.

3. Manage the clock

Think about timing when it comes to borrowing. When rates dip, you might consider making a few key borrowing moves to fund some crucial projects and wait to fund other projects later in the game. Consider the purpose of the debt on your balance sheet. Would your company benefit from having a mix of floating and fixed rates? This may allow you to hedge and still potentially benefit from low floating rates, while also maintaining certainty for longer-term, fixed rates.

4. Stick with your game plan

When rates do change, do not throw out your playbook. Instead, call a time out and consult with your banker or interest rate risk advisor to help ensure your borrowing decisions match your company’s long-term plans and goals for continued growth and success.

If you do not need capital, do not borrow just to lock in a lower rate. Interest rates should not be the driving factor when making borrowing decisions. Borrow when you need to; have a good reason for it.

Remember, interest rate changes will always interrupt the flow of your game. But your goal is to ensure that your financial future is deliberate – not purely defensive, based on the ebb and flow of interest rates.

Greg Martinez-Miller is the commercial banking leader for Wells Fargo in Inland Empire. Based in Ontario, Martinez-Miller leads a team of commercial relationship managers in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. The views expressed present the opinions of the author on prospective trends and related matters in middle market banking trends as of this date, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wells Fargo & Co., its affiliates and subsidiaries.

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Banking & Financial Services

2024 Inland Empire Financial Summit: A Milestone in Economic Empowerment



Uniting Leaders and Innovators for a Thriving Economic Future in Southern California’s Inland Region

The Inland Empire Regional Chamber of Commerce proudly announces the resounding success of the 2024 Financial Industry Update, a landmark event that convened key figures in California’s financial sector. Held on January 18, 2024, at the Ontario International Airport Authority Conference Center, this summit marked a significant moment for economic empowerment and collaboration in the region.

California State Treasurer Fiona Ma, the keynote speaker, expressed her admiration for the region’s financial community: “As State Treasurer, I find constant inspiration in California’s vibrant financial community. The 2024 Financial Industry Update event highlighted not only the dynamic Inland Empire economic landscape but also emphasized the crucial role of collaboration and forward-thinking in our sector. The meaningful discussions and connections formed here reflect our collective dedication to fostering a resilient and prosperous financial future for California. Proud to contribute to this vital conversation, I eagerly anticipate witnessing the positive impacts of our shared efforts unfold statewide.”

Ivo A. Tjan, Chairman, President & CEO of CommerceWest Bank, shared his enthusiasm: “It was an honor to be invited as a guest speaker. The IE has a strong, diversified, and robust business community that is an important economic engine for California. CommerceWest Bank is excited to continue supporting local businesses in the IE and expanding our footprint.”

Hilda Kennedy, President & Founder of AmPac Business Capital, praised the event’s impact: “The Inland Empire Chamber did it again! They brought relevant, high-level content to help businesses plan for success in 2024. State Treasurer Fiona Ma and Ivo Tjan were exceptional! I agree with State Treasurer Ma, the Inland Empire region will save California.”

Christina Scranage, Business Development Manager at Keystone Advanced Solutions, reflected on the event’s value: “Grateful for the insightful conference today! The speakers provided valuable information, making me optimistic about our community’s economic outlook. Huge thanks to everyone involved for such an informative and helpful event!”

The event was highlighted by the participation of industry leaders who provided invaluable insights into the region’s economic landscape. The Financial Industry Update served as a crucial platform for networking, knowledge sharing, and exploring the challenges and opportunities facing the financial sector in the Inland Empire and beyond.

For more information about the event and the Inland Empire Regional Chamber of Commerce, visit

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Banking & Financial Services

All Eyes On The Fed… But Will It Change The US Forecast?



Federal Reserve Policies At The Root Of Recent Bank Collapses; California: A Better Recovery Than We Thought!

The recession forecasted by so many still hasn’t shown up and is looking less and less likely to anytime soon, according to Beacon Economics‘ latest outlook for the United States and California. Moreover, the recent bank failures that have been capturing headlines are being ‘wrongly viewed’ as heralding a coming downturn, something that misses the actual drivers behind the collapses and that key economic data refutes.

“These bank failures are not a reflection of an unhealthy U.S. economy, they are all about Federal Reserve policy,” said Christopher Thornberg, Founding Partner of Beacon Economics and one of the forecast authors. “Sad by true; the body that is supposed to be the wise shepherd of the nation’s banking system is largely responsible for creating the very stressors that caused Silicon Valley Bank to fail, and the run on others to begin.”

According to the outlook, the U.S. banking system, overall, is the victim of quixotic and rapid changes in Fed policy over the last three years as they have tried to maintain both full employment and price stability – which can be mutually exclusive. “In their existential panic over full employment during the pandemic, the Fed destabilized prices by injecting historic amounts of cash into the economy; in their existential panic over price instability, they destabilized the banking system through interest rate increases,” said Thornberg.

The new outlook acknowledges that the sudden crosscurrents from the bank failures have made the forecast fuzzier because stress in the banking system will eventually show up in the broader economy in the form of tightening credit. However, the new forecast does not believe those stressors, on their own, will rise to the level of a recession. “Cash is still king in the U.S. economy,” said Thornberg. “But if the Fed decides to continue raising interest rates in its quest to slow inflation, it will do more damage to the bank credit industry and that will trigger negative consequences for the overall economy.”

Assuming the Fed slows their roll, which they’ve shown some signs of doing, Beacon Economics is expecting slow growth and no recession in the near-term future. The forecast has real U.S. GDP growth in the first quarter coming in between 1% and 2%, although the margin of error has increased given the policy uncertainty.

In terms of the macro economy, the new outlook points to copious evidence of its health: unemployment in the nation remains rock bottom, consumer spending continues despite inflation, earnings growth is still running above 6% for the median worker, U.S. household net worth remains 30% ($30 trillion) higher than it was pre-pandemic, banks are not experiencing an increase in problem loans, and interest rates have started to stabilize causing asset markets to do the same.

In California, the news grew rosier this month after the state released its annual employment revisions, although a declining workforce continues to hamper economic growth. The revision shows that California recovered more and faster from the pandemic’s job losses than previously estimated: There are 197,000 more people employed in the state today than there were pre-pandemic. The original estimates had the gain at a mere 70,000.

However, in terms of the percentage increase, California’s job growth has been about five times slower than states such as Florida and Texas. “The underperformance we’ve seen is certainly not due to any unwillingness on the part of the state’s employers to hire workers,” said Taner Osman, Research Manager at Beacon Economics and one of the forecast authors. “Rather, California’s labor force contracted during the pandemic and there are well over 300,000 fewer workers in the state today than there were before COVID hit; there are simply not enough workers to fill the number of job openings.”

Deeply linked to its declining workforce is California’s famously expensive housing market, where prices surged an astounding 41% during the early days of the pandemic. Today, higher interest rates have led to a collapse in demand and home sales have returned to their pre-pandemic trough. However, home prices remain 27% above where they were pre-pandemic and the new forecast only expects them to fall by 6.3% in 2023. “Given California’s acute long-term housing shortage, it’s not surprising that price drops will be limited,” said Osman. “And this isn’t anything like the Great Recession because consumer balance sheets are so much stronger today and unemployment rates are at all-time lows.”

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