A billionaire stopped by Modesto to talk about helping working-class families get loans.
Tom Steyer, co-founder of Beneficial State Bank, joined a celebration of its new branch on McHenry Avenue. The Oakland-based bank finances renewable energy and other green ventures along with the loans for lower-income people.
“That is our goal in underserved communities, where people don’t have access to credit at a fair price,” Steyer said at the event.
He has devoted himself to social and environmental causes since retiring from Farallon Capital Management, an investment firm he founded in San Francisco in 1986. The 2015 edition of the Forbes 400 put his net worth at $1.6 billion.
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Steyer considered running for the U.S. Senate this year and is rumored to be a candidate for governor in 2018.
He founded the bank in 2007 with his wife, Kat Taylor. She and Dan Skaff are co-CEOs. Beneficial State has about $650 million in assets and 12 branches in California, Oregon and Washington.
We are doing nothing short of trying to change the banking system for good.
Kat Taylor, co-founder of Beneficial State Bank
The Modesto branch had been part of Pan American Bank, which specialized in car loans and merged with Beneficial State last month. Pan American had acquired the branch from Finance and Thrift, founded in Porterville in 1925 by farmers who wanted to lend money to their workers.
The Modesto branch employs three of the 220 people at Beneficial State. It is way out on the strip of car dealerships on north McHenry – convenient for arranging the used-car loans that are one of the bank’s priorities.
One of those loans went to Martell Simon, who works next door as a management trainee at Enterprise Rent-A-Car.
“Most banks don’t want to go with someone fresh out of college,” he said. “They helped me out. They were honest from the jump.”
Simon took part in the celebration, which featured sandwiches from the Food Fix truck and music.
Beneficial State has a large number of Latino customers. The office has voter registration forms and information about citizenship applications.
The bank also seeks out ventures owned by women and minorities. It lends to the “green chemistry” sector, such as the beverage containers made by Ecologic Brands in Manteca. It finances affordable housing and efforts to keep neighborhoods stable.
The bank is owned by the Beneficial State Foundation, rather than individual shareholders. Taylor said it has three goals – to restore the planet, to help people needing credit, and to make money.
“We are doing nothing short of trying to change the banking system for good,” she said. “It’s high time. That system is really important to all of us. It belongs to us. We are the people who pool our deposits and put it in the banking system.”
John Holland: 209-578-2385
BENEFICIAL STATE BANK
Assets: $650 million
Modesto branch: 4623 McHenry Ave., Suite C, 209-667-9226