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Even Critics Acknowledge Gerry Findley's Expertise : Independent Bankers Bank on Very Independent Adviser

January 06, 1985|JOHN O'DELL | Times Staff Writer

His detractors say Gerry Findley is overbearing, stubborn and opinionated. Some say he's stuck in the past. But the banking consultant's fans say he's honest, open, extremely knowledgeable--and stubborn and opinionated.

To Findley, the portly, white-haired dean of California's growing corps of banking consultants, it makes little difference. He sees himself as a fiercely independent adviser and analyst who says what he thinks regardless of whether it makes enemies or friends.

He's been doing it that way for 28 years and, as even his loudest critics admit, has earned a reputation as one of the most influential forces in the state's independent banking industry.

Findley "brings a certain energy to the independent banking industry," said Jay Alexander, a Los Angeles broker whose firm is a major market maker in independent bank stocks. "He can look you in the eye and kick you in the pants if you are not doing what he thinks you should be doing, and bankers need to be kicked in the pants once in awhile."

Through his Brea-based consulting company, Gerry Findley Inc., the 64-year-old former Arkansas farm boy has helped start more than 200 independent banks and savings and loans, most of them in California. He regularly advises scores of bankers how to deal with regulators and structure their executive compensation programs, when to start new branches and whether to sell to acquisition-minded suitors.

"An awful lot of bankers in this state still think Gerry's word is gospel. They won't make a major move without checking to see what Findley has to say about it," said one prominent Los Angeles banking attorney who asked to remain anonymous.

And John Bednerick, executive director of the Western Independent Bankers trade organization, said the Findley companies are "highly regarded. He (Findley) covers the California banking scene in an exemplary manner and probably provides the most thorough and up-to-date source of information about California independent banks that you can lay your hands on."

The privately owned Findley operation began in a Temple City garage in 1956. It has four separate companies, each headed by a member of Findley's family. Although it has only six full-time employees, it grossed about $1.5 million in 1984. "That's plenty of money for us," Findley said.

The other companies in the Findley organization are his son's law firm, a publishing company and a management talent pool. Through the consulting and legal companies, the Findleys prepare bank and S&L charter applications, advise bankers on setting up executive compensation programs, handle merger and acquisition activities and work with the institutions when they are in trouble with regulators. The publishing company, the Findleys' most visible operation, publishes monthly newsletters on banking issues and a series of annual manuals on California independent banks' financial data.

In recent issues of his monthly newsletter on California banks, Findley has charged various bank officers with "having their hands in the cookie jar," with "banking stupidity," "greed" and even, in the case of the failure earlier this year of West Coast Bank of Encino, of forcing growth too rapidly "for proper digestion . . . result(ing) in runs and upchucks."

Attacks like that have drawn sharp responses from Findley's foes, who usually shy away from public criticism because they respect Findley's power. They point out that several banks Findley once cited as among the best-performing institutions in the state--most notably Heritage Bank in Anaheim, National Bank of Carmel and Western National Bank in Santa Ana--later were declared insolvent and closed by regulators.

Although he admits to mistakes (he keeps framed copies of stock certificates of nearly a dozen failed banks in which he had purchased stock), Findley said he is not embarrassed by such situations, because a bank's financial condition can change rapidly.

And, he said, only three of the banks he has helped organize have ended up on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s list of problem institutions. "And we've never had a failure with a bank we started."

Findley believes his freedom to criticize and praise at will comes from having a business that is relatively small and family-oriented.

"I structured the company around my family," Findley said. "It allowed me to spend a great deal of time with them, and each summer when the kids were younger we'd travel, for a month to six weeks, camping all over the country."

That's why he turned down a lucrative job offer from Los Angeles financier Mark Taper in 1958. At the time, Taper was chairman and majority shareholder of American Savings & Loan Assn., (which he sold in 1983 to Stockton-based Financial Corp. of America).

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