Banc of California in Irvine is planning to eliminate jobs as part of a broader effort to substantially reduce its overhead.
Just days after announcing plans to sell its mortgage operation, the $11.2 billion-asset company disclosed in a regulatory filing Monday that it will further cut costs by shrinking its headcount, consolidating and eliminating departments and reviewing vendor relationships.
Appearing Tuesday at an investor conference hosted by Sandler O’Neill, company officials also said that Banc of California would bring in additional income by leasing out space in its executive offices that it no longer needs.
Banc of California’s presentation said that the planned cost-cutting efforts would save it $20 million annually, with an ultimate goal of lowering its efficiency ratio to below 60%. It stood at 67% on Dec. 31.
A company spokesman said he could not comment on how many jobs might be cut.
The moves make sense as Banc of California looks to “rightsize” its operations and focus on less-volatile businesses, said Jacquelynne Bohlen, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.
“The more simplistic [an] operating model is, the easier it is to maintain control and have strong corporate governance,” she said.
Banc of California expanded aggressively after Steven Sugarman became CEO in 2012, less than two years after COR Capital, where he is a managing member, recapitalized the former First PacTrust. The company’s assets have increased sevenfold in the last four years.
Banc of California is showing signs that it wants to slim down, selling its Commercial Equipment Finance unit and $242 million of leases to Hanmi Financial late last year.
The company has also agreed to sell its mortgage unit and $36 million of mortgage-servicing rights to Caliber Home Loans in Irving, Texas, in deals that will reduce its annual noninterest expenses by more than $160 million, largely by halving its headcount. Caliber will pay Banc of California $25 million in cash, plus $2.7 million to cover the net book value of certain assets.
The mortgage deals will likely lead to $9.5 million of one-time costs in the first quarter, Banc of California disclosed in its recent presentation. The company also expects to incur $7.5 million in charges tied to severance costs.
Banc of California should be able to offset the costs with the premium it will receive from selling its mortgage division.
The timing of the moves is noteworthy given recent negative headlines and the fact that the company is operating with an interim management team, said Timur Braziler, an analyst at Wells Fargo Securities.
The company’s board recently completed an investigation into claims that certain executives and directors had improper dealings with third parties. An anonymous blogger also alleged last fall that the company had ties to Jason Galanas, a Los Angeles financier who had been charged with defrauding investors.
The probe, handled by a law firm with no prior ties to the company, determined that no laws were violated and nothing happened to impair any director’s independence. The report also concluded that Galanis had no indirect or direct control or undue influence over the company.
Still, the investigation determined that Banc of California gave “inaccurate” information to shareholders about its initial efforts to debunk the blogger’s claims, misrepresenting its initial probe as an independent one.
The company said in January that the Securities and Exchange Commission had launched its own investigation into those questionable statements.
Sugarman resigned as chairman and CEO shortly after the SEC probe was disclosed. Robert Sznewajs, a veteran banker who once ran West Coast Bancorp in Lake Oswego, Ore., was named chairman, and Hugh Boyle, Banc of California’s chief risk officer, became interim CEO. (Banc of California agreed to pay Sugarman about $4.3 million over the next year, including his $1.5 million bonus for 2016.)
Boyle was one of the executives who attended the recent Sandler conference, a spokesman said.
Banc of California disclosed in its presentation that the special investigation will likely cost it $5 million in the first quarter.
"I think that they’re in a mode where they’re trying to put as much emphasis on what they’re doing from an operational standpoint and trying to divert some of the attention away from the headline news that had been popping up … since August," Braziler said.
“The thing that makes me scratch my head a little bit is that a lot of these changes are taking place without a permanent CEO," Braziler added. "At the same time, I get the rationale."
Many of the moves have taken place since Legion Partners Asset Management in Beverly Hills, Calif., which owns about 6.3% of Banc of California’s stock, began pushing the board to hire an independent financial adviser and form a special committee “to consider all strategic alternatives … including a possible sale.”
The company has also taken heat for a stadium naming rights deal with the Los Angeles Football Club, a professional soccer franchise, largely due to the $100 million price tag and because Sugarman’s brother is one of the team’s investors.
Banc of California disclosed in this week’s presentation that it will reallocate $3.5 million budgeted for direct sponsorships and efforts tied to the Community Reinvestment Act to help pay for the stadium deal. The presentation also highlighted several “incremental banking opportunities tied to the deal, including financing for the stadium’s construction, a branch in the arena and cobranded cards.
A company spokesman said a reallocation of funds will not result in a reduction in donations or community support.
Other efforts have focused on corporate governance.
The company recently unveiled a series of corporate changes, including the adoption of a policy to tighten controls on the outside business activities of officers and employees. Banc of California also added two investors — Kirk Wycoff of Patriot Financial Partners and Richard Lashley of PL Capital — to its board.
Those moves were highlighted in the company's recent annual report, which also outlined plans to implement new training activities and enhance risk and fraud assessment processes, among other things, to "ensure appropriate resources and controls are in place."
Having addressed governance, it appears as though the company is now looking to improve operations. Still, industry experts said they will be watching to see how the SEC investigation and the ongoing search for a permanent CEO plays out.
"There are certainly overhangs on the name," Braziler said. "Still, they’re trying to switch back and kind of pivot back to some of the strengths that they were showing prior to [the recent controversies] going down."