Plaza Bank promises change

Things are changing at former SouthwestUSA Bank, which regulators seized on Friday and turned over to Plaza Bank of Irvine, Calif.

Temporary signs bear the name Plaza Bank. The new bank will no longer compete as a private bank for wealthy individuals but will focus on business loans, said Gene Galloway, president of the bank in both states.

Asked if operations would change, Galloway quipped: "I would certainly hope so."

The old way of doing business contributed to the collapse of SouthwestUSA, although observers say the lingering Southern Nevada recession makes survival difficult for all community banks.

The new owners intend to combine the best of Plaza Bank with the best of SouthwestUSA Bank, Galloway said.

"We're a small-business community bank," he said.

Plaza Bank will make loans to businesses such as manufacturers and distributors but will not make construction or land loans, he said.

Bankers consider construction and land loans relatively risky, if initially more profitable, and these loans dragged several local banks into insolvency in the wake of the real estate debacle.

Galloway was encouraged about Plaza Bank's first day of operation.

"It's pretty hectic here this morning," Galloway said. Some depositors are returning with their money, and new customers are opening accounts.

Plaza Bank removed stress for some existing customers when it assumed all local deposits except about $410,000 sold by brokers to investors chasing high interest rates.

Galloway, 63, has experience both in Las Vegas -- he owns three rental houses in Summerlin -- and in banking.

He was corporate executive vice president of Sanwa Bank California, with responsibility for $3.5 billion in assets and 118 branch offices, when Bank of the West acquired it in 2002.

Galloway started his banking career in Orange County, worked as regional vice president for Crocker Bank and managed the consumer financial services division at California Federal Savings in Los Angeles.

Plaza Bank was named in a cease-and- desist order a year ago, but the bank has corrected the problems cited by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., he said. After those improvements, the FDIC was willing to accept Plaza's bid for deposits and loans at the Las Vegas bank.

Galloway expects to spend half of his time in Las Vegas and half in Irvine.

With the acquisition of the Las Vegas bank, Plaza Bank will have $409 million in assets. Plaza Bank's majority shareholder is PB Holdings Inc., a subsidiary of Carpenter Community BancFund.

Shares in Plaza bank gained 30 cents, or 15 percent, to close at $2.30 on the over-the-counter bulletin board.

Contact reporter John G. Edwards at jedwards@review or 702-383-0420.