Union Bank of California
Union Bank of California
350 California Street
San Francisco, California 94104
Fax: (415) 705-7335
Public Subsidiary of Bank of Tokyo Ltd.
Total Assets: $16 billion
Stock Exchanges: NASDAQ
SICs: 6022 State Commercial Banks
In late 1995, it was announced that Union Bank of San Francisco planned to merge with the Bank of California in order to form the largest foreign-owned bank in the United States. The merger was brought about by the merger of the Bank of Tokyo Ltd., which owns Union Bank, and Mitsubishi Bank Ltd., which owns the Bank of California. The combination of Union Bank and the Bank of California creates a company whose share of the financial services market will be the fourth largest in the state of California. Union Bank of California offers numerous customer services, including ATM/Debit Cards, home mortgages, supermarket branches, real estate financing, asset-based finance and leasing, import/export financing, electronic letters of credit, trust and money management, and many, many more.
Early History of Union Bank of San Francisco
The founder of Union Bank, Kaspare Cohn, was a highly successful businessman in the wool-growing industry in the state of California. During the late 19th century and early years of the 20th century, California was still a pastoral state, with huge tracts of land upon which cattle and sheep used to graze. During one period of the state’s history, over seven million sheep roamed the California landscape. In his capacity as a wool merchant, Kaspare Cohn worked with Basque shepherds who supplied him with the wool for his business. Since these shepherds tended their sheep far from the city of Los Angeles, they were naturally inclined to ask Cohn, with whom they had developed a close working relationship, to safeguard the proceeds of their wool sales until there came a time when the money was needed. Occasionally, when one shepherd needed an advance to help him during a financially difficult time, or another needed credit to improve or add to his flock of sheep, Cohn would provide the necessary funds.
When the California Banking Department became aware that Cohn was functioning like his own bank, namely, accepting deposits from customers and arranging loans, the state authorities gave him the choice of either formalizing his activities by creating a bank or desisting from any further financial transactions. Cohn, already a wealthy man from his various investments in land and vineyards, decided that he had all the contacts necessary to establish and organize a bank. In 1914, he founded the Kaspare Cohn Commercial & Savings Bank. Some of the more important decisions Cohn made while serving as president of the bank included the financing of the San Gabriel Light & Power Company, and another small natural gas company that ultimately became part of Pacific Lighting Corporation.
Kaspare Cohn died in 1916 and was followed by Ben Meyer as president of the bank. Just before America’s entry into World War I, the city of Los Angeles and the state of California were starting their long period of growth and development. Businesses, restaurants, and civic organizations were being created all over the state, and many of these enterprises were founded by people who had just arrived. The search for capital was at an all time high, yet risks were understandably great, and the banking community was conservative in its loan policies. A new bank like Kaspare Cohn Commercial & Savings Bank saw an opportunity to manage customer deposits by providing exceptional service. In addition, under the direction of Meyer, the bank began to garner a reputation as an astute lender. Meyer had an uncanny ability to provide loans to those entrepreneurs who not only were successful in their business endeavors, but were also able to promote the development of the city of Los Angeles.
In 1918, the name of the bank was changed to Union Bank & Trust Company. In 1922, the bank was growing at such a fast rate that it opened a new headquarters on Eighth and Hill Streets and, just five years later, the bank’s continued growth required an enlargement and significant improvement of these facilities. Much of the bank’s business during this time was based on the civic leadership and personal qualities of Ben Meyer. As president of Cedar Hospital, Meyer visited the hospital every morning, greeting both staff and patients. While attending a ballet one evening at the Hollywood Bowl, Meyer discovered that the performance was in danger of being canceled since the stagehands had not been paid their wages. Meyer went backstage, presented the stagehands with a personal check for what they were owed, and the show was performed.
During the entire decade of the 1920s, Meyer presided over Union Bank’s period of uninhibited growth. Deposits were increasing, the loan department was successful in its choice of entrepreneurs, and assets continued to rise at an astounding rate. Like every bank across the nation, however, Union Bank was affected by the stock market crash of 1929. Yet the bank survived the crash and the worst of the Great Depression. After Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Bank Holiday Proclamation in 1933, Union Bank was one of the banks allowed to reopen for business. The deft management of the bank’s assets and business activities during this time was largely due to the talent of Ben Meyer.
Expanded Services in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s
The early 1940s were disruptive for the entire United States since men of all ages were involved in the military conflicts of World War II. Yet even below normal staff levels, Union Bank continued to expand its services and extend its asset base. The bank was the first bank throughout the entire western part of United States to implement a program known as ’’bank-by-mail service.” This program involved free postage both ways for customers doing banking business. Since the bank had a policy of not opening branch offices, the nearby mailbox was a highly successful substitute. Union Bank was also one of the first banks throughout the western United States to provide its customers with “lock-box banking,” a new development for collecting payments. During the latter part of the decade, Union Bank’s slogan became, “The Bank of Personal Service.”
Ben Meyer retired in 1950, and Herman Hahn, an executive with 20 years service in Union Bank, became president. Hahn was an energetic leader and active in many civic groups in the Los Angeles area. Within the bank, he had built a reputation for his ability to structure complex loans and had thereby brought a good deal of visibility to the loan department. Unfortunately, Hahn unexpectedly died in 1954, and the bank was forced to look for a successor. Meyer came out of retirement to temporarily assume the responsibilities of president, as the bank’s board of directors searched for a new candidate. In 1957, the bank appointed Harry J. Volk to serve as president. Volk brought with him extensive experience from the insurance industry, having left a job at The Prudential Insurance Company to accept the presidency at Union Bank. Two months following Volk’s appointment, Ben Meyer died.
Soon after Volk became president, he assembled his staff and members of the bank’s board of directors to discuss the changes in the banking industry and how Union Bank should respond to the challenges ahead. The overwhelming response was that the bank had to take advantage of as many growth opportunities as possible. As a result, management decided to expand its presence throughout the state of California, but rather than imitate the branch banking system of most retail banks, Union Bank decided to organize semi-autonomous offices staffed with senior bank officers that would provide all the services normally available at the bank’s headquarters on Eighth and Hill Streets in San Francisco. The bank adopted the phrase, “Regional Banking,” in order to describe this comprehensive, yet highly innovative, banking system.
Over the next decade, Union Bank opened 16 regional head offices, including facilities in major areas such as Beverly Hills, Sacramento, and San Diego. Along with its development of regional offices, Union Bank acquired Occidental Bank, located in the heart of the San Fernando Valley. This was Union Bank’s first acquisition. While concentrating on expanding geographically, the bank also initiated new, and highly creative, customer services. The bank was the first financial institution to calculate a daily compounded interest rate on individual savings accounts, the first to introduce savings statements for customers that were computer generated, and the first to introduce original techniques for interim construction financing.
A New Concept in Banking
The year 1967 was one of the most important years in the history of Union Bank. The bank was the first major bank in the United States to form and establish a one-bank holding company. This new concept in banking completely transformed the banking industry. The holding company, Union Bancorp (subsequently changed to Unionamerica, Inc. in 1969) was formed to assume the ownership of Union Bank and to create new opportunities for expanding into diversified areas of financial services. The day after the formation of the bank holding company, Union Bank acquired one of the largest mortgage firms in the United States, Western Mortgage Corporation.
At Union Bank, we are building on our strengths. We appreciate our customers’ business and work hard to maintain their loyalty. We believe that we stand out from our competitors because of our highly professional staff and superior service.
When the Bank Holding Company Act was passed in 1970, describing strict limitations on the activities of bank holding companies, and requiring that some of these activities be divested under the Bank Holding Company Act, Unionamerica changed its name back to Union Bancorp, and reorganized its operations, including the operations of all its subsidiaries. The company’s new headquarters on Bunker Hill were occupied by this time, and new acquisitions of banks were made in Oakland, San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Long Beach. By 1972, the bank’s deposits in its Northern California regional office were greater than those of the entire bank. It was during this period that the bank entered the field of international banking and opened offices in Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, and London.
Ownership by the Bank of Tokyo
The late 1970s, and the entire decade of the 1980s, were highly profitable years for the bank. Under astute management, the bank continued to improve upon its already-attractive customer services. Most important, however, the bank continued to expand throughout the state. Not content with regional offices anymore, management decided to go into branch banking. By the mid-1980s, Union Bank had an extensive network of branch locations up and down the coast of California. One of the surprises within the state banking industry occurred when the Bank of Tokyo, a Japanese-based bank holding company, purchased Union Bank in October of 1988. Although Union Bank was performing admirably, the acquisition by the Bank of Tokyo signaled that the bank’s board of directors was willing to use the resources of its Japanese parent to grow even larger.
Under the direction of the Bank of Tokyo, Union Bank continued its expansion program, and the result was an impressive increase in the assets of the bank. By the mid-1990s, assets had grown to approximately $18 billion. In addition to its ever-increasing asset base, however, the bank built its branch network to include a total of over 200 offices in the state. Union Bank was widely regarded as one of the financial institutions with the best customer services on the west coast.
Merger with the Bank of California in 1996
In 1995, the Bank of Tokyo and Mitsubishi Bank Ltd., also a Japanese-based bank holding company, agreed to merge in order to create the world’s largest bank. The two financial titans arranged to established a private bank whose assets totaled approximately $820 billion. At the same time, the Bank of Tokyo and Mitsubishi Bank Ltd., agreed to merge their two most prominent subsidiaries, Union Bank and the Bank of California, and call it Union Bank of California. The Bank of California was less than half the size of Union Bank, with only $7 million in assets and 46 branch offices in Washington, Oregon, and California. Effective April 1, 1996, the merger between the two subsidiaries forms the fourth-largest bank in the state of California, with over $25 billion in assets. The combined resources of Union Bank and the Bank of California meant improved services in such areas as commercial markets, specialized lending, trust services, private banking, treasury services, retail markets, and international banking.
Union Bank of California will continue a number of the more important strategies management at Union Bank was working on at the time of the merger. Union Bank had a long-established policy of providing support services to individual entrepreneurs and businesses from Asia and the Pacific Rim that wanted to establish themselves in the United States. At the time of the merger, Union Bank was helping over 1,200 Japanese corporations with their operations in California. Union Bank of California plans to continue assisting these business pioneers by offering such services as cash management, pension plans, investment products, wire transfers, expedited loan approvals, and general financial advice. Another policy likely to continue at Union Bank of California is the bank’s commitment to community involvement. In the past, Union Bank has sponsored 5K runs for charity, funded the construction of low-income family dwellings in Los Angeles, and contributed $150,000 to the brand new San Francisco Main Library.
The merger between Union Bank and the Bank of California has provided a wider range of financial services, including trust and investment services, retail banking, private banking, business banking, and international banking. One of the top 25 banks in the United States in terms of total assets, Union Bank of California will serve as a key ingredient in the success of its Japanese parent institution.
Bankers Commercial Corporation; Cal First Properties, Inc.; SBS Realty Inc.; Stance Properties, Inc.; U.B. Equities, Inc.; UB Investment Services, Inc.; UB Leasing, Inc.; UB Mortgage Corporation; Union Bank Realty Company; Union Commercial Funding Corporation; Union Venture Corporation; and Union-bane Leasing Corporation.
Clark, Don, “Union Bank to Buy Bank of California as Parents Merge,” The Wall Street Journal, September 29, 1995, p. A7(E).
Crockett, Barton, “Bank of California, Union Bank Put Merger Savings at $90 Million,” American Banker, September 29, 1995, p. 4.
——, “Japanese Giants’ California Jewels Are Seen as Takeover Target,” American Banker, August 28, 1995, p. 4.
“Japanese Megamerger to Create California Giant,” American Banker, May 30, 1995, p. 26.
Kraus, James, R., “Japan Likely to Create the Biggest Foreign-Owned Bank in the U.S.,” American Banker, March 30, 1995, p. 1.
Monahan, Julie, “Union Bank of California Plans to Speed New Accounts Using the Local Area Net,” American Banker, March 22, 1995, pp. 10A–11A.
Pesek, Jr., William, “Union Bank Rings up Retail Profits with Phone-Based System,” American Banker, May 24, 1993, p. 8A.
“Union Bank Purchase of Branches Approved,” American Banker, May 29, 1992, p. 8.
Volk, Harry J., Union Bank, Newcomen Society: New York, 1974.