A bank named after Honest Abe seemed like a good idea to Lincoln National Bank in Encino until about a year ago. That's when federal regulators seized Lincoln Savings & Loan, an unrelated thrift based in Irvine.
Suddenly, Lincoln National Bank was being confused with the other Lincoln, the best known symbol of alleged corruption and excess in the S&L business. Seven executives of Lincoln S&L's parent have been accused by the federal Resolution Trust Corp. of racketeering in connection with its costly failure.
Compounding the thriving bank's woes, John J. Keating, its chief executive, was being confused with Charles H. Keating Jr., chairman of American Continental, parent of the seized thrift.
So Lincoln National Bank has changed its name to California United. And if its shareholders approve, the bank's parent company will soon change its name from Lincoln Bancorp to CU Bancorp.
But the confusion has already cost California United, which has $498 million in assets, about $20 million to $30 million in deposit growth, John Keating estimates. And changing stationery and signs could cost as much as $200,000.
Finding a new name wasn't easy. The bank turned down offers from consultants who wanted "from a low of $50,000 to a high of a few hundred thousand" to rechristen the bank, Keating says.
Instead, the bank offered a weeklong Hawaiian vacation to the winner of an employee name-devising contest. But the winner was a bank director, who decided to donate the prize to an employee raffle contest.
Keating says he's jokingly discussed changing his name to Fielding Mellish, the hero of "Bananas," a Woody Allen movie. "It's a very bizarre name," Keating admits. "But this is a bizarre situation."